Skip to main content

Full text of "The_Story_Of_Civilization"

See other formats

The Story of Civilization 





i. Our Oriental Heritage 

Being a history of civilization in Egypt and the Near East 
to the death of Alexander, and in India, China and ] 
front the beginning to our own day; 'with an int 
on the nature and foundations of civilizatj 

ift Diirant 


NEW YORK : 1942 



I HAVE tried in this book to accomplish the first part of a pleasant 
assignment which I rashly laid upon myself some twenty years ago: to 
write a history of civilization. I wish to tell as much as I can, in as little 
space as I can, of the contributions that genius and labor have made to the 
cultural heritage of mankind to chronicle and contemplate, in their causes, 
character and effects, the advances of invention, the varieties of economic 
organization, the experiments in government, the aspirations of religion, 
the mutations of morals and manners, the masterpieces of literature, the de- 
velopment of science, the wisdom of philosophy, and the achievements of 
art. I do not need to be told how absurd this enterprise is, nor how im- 
modest is its very conception; for many years of effort have brought it to 
but a fifth of its completion, and have made it clear that no one mind, and 
no single lifetime, can adequately compass this task. Nevertheless I have 
dreamed that despite the many errors inevitable in this undertaking, it may 
be of some use to those upon whom the passion for philosophy has laid the 
compulsion to try to see things whole, to pursue perspective, unity and 
understanding through history in time, as well as to seek them through 
science in space. 

I have long felt that our usual method of writing history in separate 
longitudinal sections economic history, political history, religious history, 
the history of philosophy, the history of literature, the history of science, 
the history of music, the history of art does injustice to the unity of 
human life; that history should be written collaterally as well as lineally, 
synthetically as well as analytically; and that the ideal historiography 
would seek to portray in each period the total complex of a nation's culture, 
institutions, adventures and ways. But the accumulation of knowledge has 
divided history, like science, into a thousand isolated specialties; and pru- 
dent scholars have refrained from attempting any view of the whole 
whether of the material universe, or of the living past of our race. For the 
probability of error increases with the scope of the undertaking, and any 
man who sells his soul to synthesis will be a tragic target for a myriad 
merry darts of specialist critique. "Consider," said Ptah-hotep five thousand 
years ago, "how thou mayest be opposed by an expert in council. It is 



foolish to speak on every kind of work."* A history of civilization shares 
the presumptuousness of every philosophical enterprise: it offers the ridicu- 
lous spectacle of a fragment expounding the whole. Like philosophy, such 
a venture has no rational excuse, and is at best but a brave stupidity; but let 
us hope that, like philosophy, it will always lure some rash spirits into its 
fatal depths. 

The plan of the series is to narrate the history of civilization in five inde- 
pendent parts: 

L Our Oriental Heritage: a history of civilization in Egypt and the 
Near East to the death of Alexander, and in India, China and Japan 
to the present day; with an introduction on the nature and elements 
of civilization. 

II. Our Classical Heritage: a history of civilization in Greece and 
Rome, and of civilization in the Near East under Greek and Roman 

III. Our Medieval Heritage: Catholic and feudal Europe, Byzantine 
civilization, Mohammedan and Judaic culture in Asia, Africa and 
Spain, and the Italian Renaissance. 

IV. Our European Heritage: the cultural history of the European states 
from the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution. 

V. Our Modern Heritage: the history of European invention and states- 
manship, science and philosophy, religion and morals, literature and 
art from the accession of Napoleon to our own times. 

Our story begins with the Orient, not merely because Asia was the scene 
of the oldest civilizations known to us, but because those civilizations 
formed the background and basis of that Greek and Roman culture which 
Sir Henry Maine mistakenly supposed to be the whole source of the mod- 
ern mind. We shall be surprised to learn how much of our most indis- 
pensable inventions, our economic and political organization, our science 
and our literature, our philosophy and our religion, goes back to Egypt 
and the Orient, t At this historic moment when the ascendancy of Europe 
is so rapidly coming to an end, when Asia is swelling with resurrected life, 
and the theme of the twentieth century seems destined to be an all-embrac- 

* Cf. p. 193 below. 

tThe contributions of the Orient to our cultural heritage are summed up in the con- 
cluding pages of this volume. 



ing conflict between the East and the West the provincialism of our tra- 
ditional histories, which began with Greece and summed up Asia in a line, 
has become no merely academic error, but a possibly fatal failure of per- 
spective and intelligence. The future faces into the Pacific, and under- 
standing must follow it there. 

But how shall an Occidental mind ever understand the Orient? Eight 
years of study and travel have only made this, too, more evident that not 
even a lifetime of devoted scholarship would suffice to initiate a Western 
student into the subtle character and secret lore of the East. Every chap- 
ter, every paragraph in this book will offend or amuse some patriotic or 
esoteric soul: the orthodox Jew will need all his ancient patience to forgive 
the pages on Yahveh; the metaphysical Hindu will mourn this superficial 
scratching of Indian philosophy; and the Chinese or Japanese sage will 
smile indulgently at these brief and inadequate selections from the wealth 
of Far Eastern literature and thought. Some of the errors in the chapter on 
Judea have been corrected by Professor Harry Wolf son of Harvard; Dr. 
Ananda Coomaraswamy of the Boston Institute of Fine Arts has given the 
section on India a most painstaking revision, but must not be held responsi- 
ble for the conclusions I have reached or the errors that remain; Professor 
H. H. Gowen, the learned Orientalist of the University of Washington, 
and Upton Close, whose knowledge of the Orient seems inexhaustible, 
have checked the more flagrant mistakes in the chapters on China and 
Japan; and Mr. George Sokolsky has given to the pages on contemporary 
affairs in the Far East the benefit of his first-hand information. Should the 
public be indulgent enough to call for a second edition of this book, the 
opportunity will be taken to incorporate whatever further corrections may 
be suggested by critics, specialists and readers. Meanwhile a weary author 
may sympathize with Tai T'ung, who in the thirteenth century issued his 
History of Chinese Writing with these words: "Were I to await perfec- 
tion, my book would never be finished."* 

Since these ear-minded times are not propitious for the popularity of ex- 
pensive books on remote subjects of interest only to citizens of the world, 
it may be that the continuation of this series will be delayed by the prosaic 
necessities of economic life. But if the reception of this adventure in syn- 
thesis makes possible an uninterrupted devotion to the undertaking, Part 
Two should be ready by the fall of 1940, and its successors should appear, 

* Carter, T. F., The Invention of Printing in China, and Its Spread Westward; New York, 
1925, p. xviii, 



by the grace of health, at five-year intervals thereafter. Nothing would 
make me happier than to be freed, for this work, from every other literary 
enterprise. I shall proceed as rapidly as time and circumstance will permit, 
hoping that a few of my contemporaries will care to grow old with me 
while learning, and that these volumes may help some of our children to 
understand and enjoy the infinite riches of their inheritance. 

Great Neck, N. Y., March, 1935 


To bring the volume into smaller compass certain technical passages, which 
may prove difficult for the general reader, have been printed (like this para- 
graph) in reduced type. Despite much compression the book is still too long, 
and the font of reduced type has not sufficed to indicate all the dull passages. 
I trust that the reader will not attempt more than a chapter at a time. 

Indented passages in reduced type are quotations. The raised numbers refer 
to the Notes at the end of the volume; to facilitate reference to these Notes the 
number of the chapter is given at the head of each page. An occasional hiatus 
in the numbering of the Notes was caused by abbreviating the printed text. 
The books referred to in the Notes are more fully described in the Bibliog- 
raphy, whose starred titles may serve as a guide to further reading. The Gloss- 
ary defines all foreign words used in the text. The Index pronounces foreign 
names, and gives biographical dates. 

It should be added that this book has no relation to, and makes no use of, 
a biographical Story of Civilization prepared for newspaper publication in 


I am grateful to the following authors and publishers for permission to quote from 
their books: 

Leonard, W. E., Gilgamesh; the Viking Press. 

Giles, H. A., A History of Chinese Literature; D. Applcton-Century Co. 
Underwood, Edna Worthley, Tu Fu; the Mosher Press. 
Waley, Arthur, 170 Chinese Poeins; Alfred A. Knopf. 
Breasted, Jas. H., The Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt; 


Obata, Shigeyoshi, Works of Li Po; E. P. Dutton. 
Tietjens, Eunice, Poetry of the Orient; Alfred A. Knopf. 
Van Doren, Mark, Anthology of World Poetry; the Literary Guild. 
"Upton Close," unpublished translations of Chinese poems. 






Definition Geological conditions Geographical Economic Racial Psycho- 
logical Causes of the decay of civilizations 



Primitive improvidence Beginnings of provision Hunting and fishing Herding 
The domestication of animals Agriculture Food Cooking Cannibalism 


Fire Primitive Tools Weaving and pottery Building and transport Trade and 


Primitive communism Causes of its disappearance Origins of private property- 
Slavery Classes 



The unsocial instinct Primitive anarchism The clan and the tribe The king War 


As the organization of force The village community The psychological aides of 
the state 

III. LAW, 25 

Law-lessness Law and custom Revenge Fines Courts Ordeal The duel Punish- 
ment Primitive freedom 


Its function in civilization The clan vs. the family Growth of parental care Un- 
importance of the father Separation of the sexes Mother-right Status of woman 
Her occupations Her economic achievements The patriarchate The subjection 
of woman 





The meaning of marriage Its biological origins Sexual communism Trial marriage 
Group marriage Individual marriage Polygamy Its eugenic value Exogamy- 
Marriage by service By capture By purchase Primitive love The economic func- 
tion of marriage 


Premarital relations Prostitution Chastity Virginity The double standard 
Modesty The relativity of morals The biological role of modesty Adultery - 
Divorce Abortion Infanticide Childhood The individual 


The nature of virtue and vice Greed-Dishonesty Violence Homicide Suicide 
The socialization of the individual Altruism Hospitality Manners Tribal limits of 
morality Primitive vs. modern morals Religion and morals 

Primitive atheists 


Fear Wonder Dreams The soul Animism 


The sun The stars The earth Sex Animals Totemism The transition to 
human gods Ghost-worship Ancestor-worship 


Magic Vegetation rites Festivals of license Myths of the resurrected god 
Magic and superstition Magic and science Priests 


Religion and government Tabu Sexual tabus The lag of religion Secularization 



Language Its animal background Its human origins Its development Its results- 
Education Initiation Writing Poetry 


Origins Mathematics Astronomy Medicine Surgery 

III. ART, 82 

The meaning of beauty-Of art-The primitive sense of beauty-The painting of the 
body Cosmetics Tattooing Scarification Clothing Ornaments Pottery 
Painting Sculpture Architecture' The dance Music Summary of the 
primitive preparation for civilization 

Chronological Chart: Types and Cultures of Prehistoric Man 90 





The purpose of prehistory The romances of archeology 


The geological background Paleolithic types 


Tools-Fire Painting Sculpture 


The Kitchen-Middens-The Lake-Dwellers-The coming of agriculture-The taming 
of animals Technology Neolithic weaving pottery building transport religion- 
science Summary of the prehistoric preparation for civilization 



Copper Bronze Iron 


Its possible ceramic origins The "Mediterranean Signary" Hieroglyphics 




Central Asia Anau Lines of Dispersion 



Chronological Table of Near Eastern History 113 

Chapter VII: SUMERIA 116 

Orientation Contributions of the Near East to Western civilization 
1. ELAM, 117 

The culture of Susa The potter's wheel The wagon-wheel 



The exhuming of Sumeria Geography Race Appearance The Sumerian Flood 
The kings An ancient reformer Sargon of Akkad The Golden Age of Ur 


The soil-Industry Trade Classes Science 


The kings- Ways of war The feudal barons Law 


The Sumerian Pantheon The food of the gods Mythology Education A Sume- 
rian prayer Temple prostitutes The rights of woman-Sumerian cosmetics 




Writing Literature Temples and palaces Statuary Ceramics - Jewelry- 
Summary of Sumerian civilization 


Sumerian influence in Mesopotamia Ancient Arabia Mesopotamia!! influence in 

Chapter VIII: EGYPT 137 



Alexandria-The Nile-The Pyramids-The Sphinx 


Memphis The masterpiece of Queen Hatshepsut The "Colossi of Memnon" 
Luxor and Karnak The grandeur of Egyptian civilization 



Champollion and the Rosetta Stone 


Paleolithic Neolithic The Badarians Predynastic Race 


The "nomes"-The first historic individual-"Cheops"-"Chephren"-The purpose 
of the Pyramids Art of the tombs Mummification 


The Feudal Age The Twelfth Dynasty The Hyksos Domination 


The great queen Thutmose III The zenith of Egypt 




Miners Manufactures Workers Engineers Transport Postal service 
Commerce and finance Scribes 


The bureaucrats Law The vizier The pharaoh 


Royal incest The harem Marriage The position of woman The matriarchate in 
Egypt Sexual morality 


Character Games Appearance Cosmetics Costume Jewelry 


Education Schools of government Paper and ink Stages in the development of 
writing Forms of Egyptian writing 


Texts and libraries The Egyptian Sinbad The Story of Sinuhe Fiction An 
amorous fragment Love poems History A literary revolution 




Origins of Egyptian science Mathematics Astronomy and the calendar Anatomy 
and physiology Medicine, surgery and hygiene 

p. ART 

Architecture Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, Empire and Sa'ite sculpture Bas- 
relief Painting Minor arts Music The artists 


The Instructions of Ptah-hotepThe Admonitions of Ipuwer The Dialogue of a 
Misanthrope The Egyptian Ecclesiastes 


Sky gods The sun god Plant gods Animal gods Sex gods Human gods Osiris 
Isis and Horus Minor deities The priests Immortality The Book of the Dead 
The "Negative Confession" Magic Corruption 


The character of Ikhnaton The new religion A hymn to the sun Monotheism The 
new dogma The new art Reaction Nofretete Break-up of the Empire Death of 


Tutenkhamon The labors of Rameses H The wealth of the clergy The poverty of 
the people The conquest of Egypt Summary of Egyptian contributions to civili- 

Chapter IX: BABYLONIA 218 


Babylonian contributions to modern civilisation The Land between the Rivers- 
Hammurabi His capital The Kassite Domination The Amarna letters The As- 
syrian Conquest Nebuchadrezzar Babylon in the days of its glory 


Hunting Tillage Food Industry Transport The perils of commerce 
Money-lenders Slaves 

III. THE LAW, 230 

The Code of Hammurabi The powers of the king Trial by ordeal Lex Talioms 
Forms of punishment Codes of wages and prices State restoration of stolen goods 


Religion and the state The functions and powers of the clergy The lesser gods 
Marduk Ishtar The Babylonian stories of the Creation and the Flood The love of 
Ishtar and Tammuz The descent of Ishtar into Hell The death and resurrection of 
Tammuz Ritual and prayer Penitential psalms Sin Magic Superstition 


Religion divorced from morals Sacred prostitution Free love Marriage Adultery 
Divorce The position of woman The relaxation of morals 


Cuneiform Its decipherment Language Literature The epic of Gilgamcsh 




The lesser arts Music Painting Sculpture Bas-relief Architecture 

Mathematics Astronomy The calendarGeographyMedicine 

Religion and Philosophy The Babylonian Job The Babylonian Koheleth An anti- 
X. EPITAPH, 263 

Chapter X: ASSYRIA 265 


Beginnings Cities Race The conquerors Sennacherib and Esarhaddon 


Imperialism Assyrian war The conscript gods Law Delicacies of penology Ad- 
ministration The violence of Oriental monarchies 


Industry and trade Marriage and morals Religion and science Letters and libraries 
The Assyrian ideal of a gentleman 


Minor arts Bas-relief Statuary Building A page from "Sardanapalus" 

The last days of a king Sources of Assyrian decay The fall of Nineveh 



The ethnic scene- MitanniansHittites Armenians Scythians Phrygians The Di- 
vine Mother Lydians Croesus Coinage Croesus, Solon and Cyrus 

The antiquity of the Arabs Phoenicians Their world trade Their circumnavigation 
of Africa Colonies Tyre and Sidon Deities The dissemination of the alphabet 
Syria-Astarte The death and resurrection of Adoni The sacrifice of children 

Chapter XII: JUDEA 299 


Palestine - Climate - Prehistory - Abraham's people - The Jews in Egypt - The 
Exodus The conquest of Canaan 


Race Appearance Language Organization Judges and kings Saul David 
Solomon His wealth The Temple Rise of the social problem in Israel 

Polytheism Yahveh Henotheism Character of the Hebrew religion The idea of 
sin Sacrifice Circumcision The priesthood Strange gods 




The class war Origin of the Prophets Amos at Jerusalem Isaiah His attacks upon 
the rich His doctrine of a Messiah The influence of the Prophets 


The birth of the Bible The destruction of Jerusalem The Babylonian Captivity- 
Jeremiah Ezekiel The Second Isaiah The liberation of the Jews The Second 


The "Book of the Law" The composition of the Pentateuch The myths of Genesis 
The Mosaic Code The Ten Commandments The idea of God The sabbath 
The Jewish family Estimate of the Mosaic legislation 


History Fiction Poetry The Psalms The Song of Songs Proverbs Job 
The idea of immortality The pessimism of Ecclesiastes The advent of Alexander 

Chapter XIII: PERSIA 350 


Their origins Rulers The blood treaty of Sardis Degeneration 

The romantic Cyrus His enlightened policies Cambyses Darius the Great The 
invasion of Greece 


The empire The people The language The peasants The in.perial highways- 
Trade and finance 


The king The nobles The army Law A savage punishment The capitals The 
satrapies An achievement in administration 


The coming of the Prophet Persian religion before Zarathustra The Bible of Persia 
Ahura-Mazda The good and the evil spirits Their struggle for the possession of 
the world 

Man as a battlefield The Undying Fire Hell, Purgatory and Paradise The cult of 
Mithra The Magi The Parsccs 


Violence and honor The code of cleanliness Sins of the flesh Virgins and bache- 
lorsMarriageWomenChildrenPersian ideas of education 

Medicine Minor arts The tombs of Cyrus and Darius The palaces of Persepolis- 
The Frieze of the Archers Estimate of Persian art 

How a nation may die Xerxes A paragraph of murders Artaxerxes II Cyrus the 
Younger Darius the Little Causes of decay: political, military, moral Alexander 
conquers Persia, and advances upon India 




Chronological Table of Indian History 389 



The rediscovery of India A glance at the map Climatic influences 

Prehistoric India Mohenjo-daro-Its antiquity 


The natives The invaders The village community Caste Warriors Priests Mer- 
chants Workers Outcastes 


Herders Tillers of the soil Craftsmen Traders Coinage and credit Morals Mar- 
riage Woman 


Pre-Vedic religion Vedic gods Moral gods The Vedic story of Creation Im- 
mortality The horse sacrifice 


Sanskrit and English Writing The four Vedas The Rig-weda A Hymn of 


The authors Their theme Intellect vs. intuition Atman Brahman Their identity 
A description of God Salvation Influence of the UpanishadsTLmcrson on Brahma 

Chapter XV: BUDDHA 416 


Sceptics Nihilists Sophists Atheists Materialists Religions without a god 


The Great Hero The Jain creed Atheistic polytheism Asceticism Salvation by 
suicide Later history of the Jains 


The background of Buddhism The miraculous birth Youth The sorrows of life- 
FlightAscetic years Enlightenment A vision of Nirvana 


Portrait of the Master His methods The Four Noble Truths The Eightfold Way 
The Five Moral Rules Buddha and Christ Buddha's agnosticism and anti-clerical- 
ism His Atheism His soul-less psychology The meaning of Nirvana 


His miracles He visits his father's house The Buddhist monks Death 





Alexander in India Chandragupta the liberator The people The university of 
Taxila The royal palace A day in the life of a king An older Alachiavelli Admin- 
istration Law Public health Transport and roads Municipal government 


Ashoka The Edict of Tolerance Ashoka's missionaries His failure His success 


An epoch of invasions The Kushan kings The Gupta Empire The travels of Fa- 
Hien The revival of letters The Huns in India Harsha the generous The travels 
of Yuan Chwang 


The Samurai of India The age of chivalry The fall of Chitor 


The kingdoms of the Deccan Vijayanagar Krishna Raya A medieval metropolis- 
Laws Arts Religion Tragedy 


The weakening of India Mahmud of Ghazni The Sultanate of Delhi Its cultural 
asides Its brutal policy The lesson of Indian history 


Tamerlane Babur Humayun Akbar His government His character His patron- 
age of the arts His passion for philosophy His friendship for Hinduism and Chris- 
tianityHis new religion The last days of Akbar 


The children of great men Jehangir Shah Jehan His magnificence His fall 
Aurangzcb His fanaticism His death The coming of the British 



The jungle background Agriculture Mining Handicrafts Commerce 
Money Taxes Famines Poverty and wealth 


The monarchy Law The Code of "Manu" Development of the caste system Rise 
of the Brahmans Their privileges and powers Their obligations In defense of caste 


Dharma Children Child marriage The art of love Prostitution Romantic 
love Marriage The family Woman Her intellectual life Her rights 
Purdah - Suttee-The Widow 


Sexual modesty Hygiene Dress Appearance The gentle art among the Hindus- 
Faults and virtues Games Festivals Death 





The Zenith of BuddhismThe Two Vehicles Mahay ana Buddhism, Stoicism and 
Christianity The decay of Buddhism Its migrations: Ceylon, Burma, Turkestan, 
Tibet, Cambodia, China, Japan 


Hinduism Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva Krishna Kali Animal gods The sacred cow- 
Polytheism and monotheism 

III. BELIEFS, 5 1 1 

The Puranas'Thc reincarnations of the universe The migrations of the soul Karma 
Its philosophical aspects Life as evil Release 


Superstitions Astrology Phallic worship Ritual Sacrifice Purification 
The sacred waters 


Methods of sanctity Heretics Toleration General view of Hindu religion 



Its religious origins Astronomers Mathematicians The "Arabic" numerals The 
decimal system Algebra Geometry Physics Chemistry Physiology Vedic 
medicine Physicians Surgeons Anesthetics Vaccination Hypnotism 


The antiquity of Indian philosophy Its prominent role Its scholars Forms Con- 
ception of orthodoxy The assumptions of Hindu philosophy 

1. THE Nyaya SYSTEM 

2. THE Vaisheshika SYSTEM 

3. THE Sankbya SYSTEM 

Its high repute Metaphysics Evolution Atheism Idealism Spirit Body, mind 
and soul The goal of philosophy Influence of the Sankbya 


The Holy Men The antiquity of Yoga Its meaning The eight stages of discipline 
The aim of YogaThe miracles of the Yogi The sincerity of Yoga 

5. THE Purva Mimansa 

6. THE Vedanta SYSTEM 

Origin Shankara Logic Epistemology Maya Psychology Theology 
God Ethics Difficulties of the system Death of Shankara 

Decadence Summary Criticism Influence 




Sanskrit The vernaculars Grammar 


Schools Methods Universities Moslem education An emperor on education 


The MahabharataIts story Its form The Bhagavad-Gita'The metaphysics of war 
The price of freedom The RamayanaA. forest idyl The rape of Sita The Hindu 
epics and the Greek 

IV. DRAMA, 571 

Origins The Clay Cart-Characteristics of Hindu drama Kalidasa The story of 
Shakuntala Estimate of Indian drama 


Their unity in India Fables History Tales Minor poets Rise of the vernacular 
literature Chandi Das Tulsi Das Poets of the south Kabir 

Chapter XXI: INDIAN ART 584 


The great age of Indian art Its uniqueness Its association with industry Pottery- 
Metal Wood-Ivory Jewelry-Textiles 

II. MUSIC, 586 

A concert in India Music and the dance Musicians Scale and forms Themes- 
Music and philosophy 


Prehistoric The frescoes of A janta Rajput miniatures The Mogul school The 
painters The theorists 

iv. SCULPTURE, 593 

Primitive Buddhist-Gandhara Gupta "Colonial" Estimate 



Before Ashoka Ashokan Buddhist Jain The masterpieces of the north Their 
destruction The southern style Monolithic temples Structural temples 


Ceylon Java Cambodia The Khmers Their religion Angkor Fall of 
the Khmers Siam Burma 


The Afghan style-The Mogul style-Dclhi-Agra-The Taj Mahal 


Decay of Indian art Hindu and Moslem architecture compared General view of 
Indian civilization 





The arrival of the Europeans The British Conquest The Sepoy Mutiny Advantages 
and disadvantages of British rule 

Christianity in India The Brahma-Somaj Mohammedanism Ramakrishna 


Science and art A family of geniuses Youth of Rabindranath His poetry His poli- 
ticsHis school 


Changing India Economic changes Social The decaying caste system Castes and 

guilds Untouchables The emergence of woman 

The westernized students The secularization of heaven The Indian National 


Portrait of a saint The ascetic The Christian The education of Gandhi In Africa 

The Revolt of 1921 "I am the man" Prison years Young India The revolution of 

the spinning-wheel The achievements of Gandhi 

The revivification of India The gifts of India 




Chronology of Chinese Civilization 636 





Geography Race Prehistory 


The Creadon according to China The coming of culture Wine and chopsticks 
The virtuous emperors A royal atheist 


The Feudal Age in China An able minister The struggle between custom and 
law Culture and anarchy Love lyrics from the Book of Odes 


The Book of Changes-Tht yang and the yin-The Chinese Enlightenment-Teng 
Shih, the Socrates of China 




Lao-tze The TaoOn intellectuals in government The foolishness of laws A 
Rousseauian Utopia and a Christian ethic Portrait of a wise man The meeting of 
Lao-tze and Confucius 



Birth and youth Marriage and divorce Pupils and methods Appearance and 
character The lady and the tiger A definition of good government Confucius 
in office Wander-years The consolations of old age 



A fragment of logic The philosopher and the urchins A formula of wisdom 


Another portrait of the sage Elements of character The Golden Rule 


Popular sovereignty Government by example The decentralization of wealth- 
Music and manners Socialism and revolution 


The Confucian scholars Their victory over the Legalists Defects of Confucian- 
ismThe contemporaneity of Confucius 





A model mother A philosopher among kings Are men by nature good? Single 
tax Mencius and the communists The profit-motive The right of revolution 


The evil nature of man The necessity of law 


The Return to Nature Governmentlcss society The Way of Nature The limits 
of the intellect The evolution of man The Button-Moulder The influence of 
Chinese philosophy in Europe 



The Period of Contending States The suicide of Ch'u P'ing Shih Huang-ti unifies 
China-The Great Wall-The "Burning of the Books"-The failure of Shih Huang-ti 


Chaos and poverty The Han Dynasty The reforms of Wu Ti The income tax 
The planned economy of Wang Mang Its overthrow The Tatar invasion 


The new dynasty Tai Tsung's method of reducing crime An age of prosperity 
The "Brilliant Emperor"-The romance of Yang Kwei-fei-The rebellion of An 




An anecdote of Li Po His youth, prowess and loves On the imperial barge The 
gospel of the grape War The wanderings of Li Po In prison "Deathless Poetry" 


"Free verse" "Imagism" "Every poem a picture and every picture a poem" Senti- 
mentality Perfection of form 

VI. TU FU, 713 

Tao Ch'ien Po Chii-i Poems for malaria Tu Fu and Li Po A vision of war Pros- 
perous days Destitution Death 

VII. PROSE, 717 

The abundance of Chinese literature Romances History Szuma Ch'ien Essays 
Han Yii on the bone of Buddha 


Its low repute in China OriginsThe play The audience The actors Music 




The Sung Dynasty A radical premier His cure for unemployment The regula- 
tion of industry Codes of wages and prices The nationalization of commerce- 
State insurance against unemployment, poverty and old age Examinations for 
public office The defeat of Wang An-shih 


The growth of scholarship Paper and ink in China Steps in the invention of print- 
ingThe oldest book Paper money Movable type Anthologies, dictionaries, 


Chu Hsi Wang Yang-ming Beyond good and evil 

The role of art in China Textiles Furniture Jewelry Fans The making of lacquer 
The cutting of jade Some masterpieces in bronze Chinese sculpture 


Chinese architecture The Porcelain Tower of Nanking The Jade Pagoda of Peking 
The Temple of Confucius The Temple and Altar of Heaven The palaces of 
Kublai Khan A Chinese home The interior Color and form 



Ku K'ai-chhi, the "greatest painter, wit and fool" Han Yii's miniature The classic 
and the romantic schools Wang Wei Wu Tao-tze Hui Tsung, the artist-em- 
peror Masters of the Sung age 


The rejection of perspective Of realism Line as nobler than color Form as 
rhythm Representation by suggestion Conventions and restrictions Sincerity of 
Chinese art 




The ceramic art-The making of porcelain-Its early histoiy-Ce/tf Awi-Enamels-The 
skill of Hao Shih-chiu-C/ow0<?-The age of K'ang-hsi-Of Ch'ien Lung 




The incredible travelers-Adventures of a Venetian in China-The elegance and 
prosperity of Hangchow-The palaces of Peking-The Mongol Conquest- Jenghiz 
Khan-Kublai Khan-His character and policy-His harem-"Marco Millions" 


Fall of the Mongols - The Ming Dynasty - The Manchu invasion - The Ch'ing 
Dynasty-An enlightened monarch-Ch'ien Lung rejects the Occident 


Population Appearance Dress Peculiarities of Chinese speech Of Chinese writing 



The poverty of the peasant Methods of husbandry Crops Tea Food The 
stoicism of the village 


Handicrafts Silk Factories Guilds Men of burden Roads and canals - 
Merchants Credit and coinage Currency experiments Printing-press inflation 


Gunpowder, fireworks and war The compass Poverty of industrial invention- 
Geography Mathematics Physics Feng shui Astronomy Medicine Hygiene 


Superstition and scepticism Animism The worship of Heaven Ancestor-worship 
Confucianism Taoism The elixir of immortality Buddhism Religious toleration 
and eclecticism Mohammedanism Christianity Causes of its failure in China 


The high place of morals in Chinese society The family Children Chastity Prosti- 
tution Premarital relations Marriage and love Monogamy and polygamy Concu- 
binage Divorce A Chinese empress The patriarchal male The subjection of 
woman The Chinese character 


The submergence of the individual Self-government The village and the province- 
The laxity of the law The severity of punishment The Emperor The Censor Ad- 
ministrative boards Education for public office Nomination by education The ex- 
amination system Its defects Its virtues 





The conflict of Asia and Europe-The Portuguese-The Spanish-The Dutch-The 
English-The opium trade-The Opium Wars-The Tai-p'ing Rebellion-The War 
with Japan The attempt to dismember China The "Open Door" The Empress 
Dowager-The reforms of Kuang Hsu-His removal from power-The "Boxers"- 
The Indemnity 


The Indemnity students Their Westernization Their disintegrative effect in China 
The role of the missionary Sun Yat-sen, the Christian His youthful adventures 
His meeting with Li Hung-chang His plans for a revolution Their success Yuan 
Shi-k'ai The death of Sun Yat-sen Chaos and pillage Communism "The north 
pacified" Chiang Kai-shek Japan in Manchuria-At Shanghai 


Change in the village In the town The factories Commerce Labor unions Wages 
The new government Nationalism vs. Westernization The dethronement of Con- 
fuciusThe reaction against religion The new morality Marriage in transition- 
Birth control Co-education The "New Tide" in literature and philosophy The 
new language of literature Hu Shih Elements of destruction Elements of renewal 


Chronology of Japanese Civilization 826 



How Japan was created The role of earthquakes 


Racial components Early civilization Religion Shinto Buddhism The beginnings 
of art-The "Great Reform" 


The emperors The aristocracy The influence of China The Golden Age of 
Kyoto Decadence 


The shoguns The Kamakura Bakufu The Ho jo Regency Kublai Khan's inva- 
sionThe Ashikaga Shogunate The three buccaneers 


The rise of Hideyoshi The attack upon Korea The conflict with Christianity 


The accession of lyeyasu His philosophy lyeyasu and Christianity Death of 
lyeyasu The Tokugawa Shogunate 





The powerless emperorThe powers of the shogun The sword of the Samurai 
The code of the Samurai-Hara-kiri-The Forty-seven Ronin-A commuted sentence 

II. THE LAW, 850 

The first code Group responsibility Punishments 


Castes An experiment in the nationalization of land State fixing of wages A fam- 
ineHandicraftsArtisans and guilds 


Stature Cosmetics Costume Diet Etiquette Saki The tea ceremony The flower 
ceremony Love of nature Gardens Homes 


The paternal autocrat The status of woman Children Sexual morality The 
Geisha Love 


Religion in Japan The transformation of Buddhism The priests Sceptics 


Confucius reaches Japan A critic of religion The religion of scholarship Kaibara 
Ekken On education On pleasure The rival schools A Japanese Spinoza Ito 
Jinsai Ito Togai Ogyu Sorai The war of the scholars Mabuchi Moto-ori 


The language Writing Education 

II. POETRY, 878 

The ManyoshuThG Kokinshu Characteristics of Japanese poetry Examples The 
game of poetry The hokka-gzmblers 

ill. PROSE, 88 1 


Lady Muraski The Tale of GenjiIts excellence Later Japanese fiction A 


The historians Arai Hakuseki 


The Lady Sei Shonagon Kamo no-Chomei 


The No plays Their character The popular stage The Japanese Shakespeare- 
Summary judgment 


Creative imitation Music and the dance 7wr0 and netsukeHidzri Jingaro Lacquer 




Temples PalacesThe shrine of lyeyasu Homes 


Swords-Mirrors-The Trinity of Horiuji-Colossi-Religion and sculpture 


The Chinese stimulus-The potters of Hizen-Pottery and tea-How Goto Saijiro 
brought the art of porcelain from Hizen to Kaga The nineteenth century 


Difficulties of the subject Methods and materials Forms and ideals Korean origins 
and Buddhist inspiration-The Tosa School-The return to China-Sesshiu-Thc 
Kano School Koyetsu and Korin The Realistic School 

X. PRINTS, 907 

The Ukiyoye School Its founders Its masters Hokusai Hiroshige 


A retrospect Contrasts An estimate The doom of the old Japan 

Chapter XXXI: THE NEW JAPAN 914 


The decay of the Shogunate America knocks at the door The Restoration The 
Westernization of Japan Political reconstruction The new constitution Law 
The army The war with Russia Its political results 


Industrialization Factories Wages Strikes Poverty The Japanese point of view 


Changes in dress In manners The Japanese character Morals and marriage in 
transition Religion Science Japanese medicine Art and taste Language and edu- 
cationNaturalistic fiction New forms of poetry 


The precarious bases of the new civilization Causes of Japanese imperialism 
The Twenty-one Demands The Washington Conference The Immigration Act 
of 1924 The invasion of Manchuria The new kingdom Japan and Russia Japan 
and Europe Must America fight Japan? 

Envoi: Our Oriental Heritage 934 

Glossary of Foreign Terms 939 

Bibliography of Books Referred to in the Text 945 

Notes 956 

Pronouncing and Biographical Index 1001 


List of Illustrations 

(Illustration Section follows page xxxii) 

Cover Design: The god Shamash transmits a code of laws to Hammurabi 
From a cylinder in The Louvre 

FIG. i. Granite statue of Rameses II 

Turin Museum, Italy 
FIG. 2. Bison painted in paleolithic cave at Altamira, Spain 

Photo by American Museum of Natural History 
FIG. 3. Hypothetical reconstruction of a neolithic lake dwelling 

American Museum of Natural History 
FIG. 4. Development of the alphabet 
FIG. 5. Stele of Naram-sin 

Louvre; photo by Archives Photographiques d'Art et d'Histoire 
FIG. 6. The "little" Gudea 

Louvre; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 7. Temple of Der-el-Bahri 

Photo by Lindsley F. Hall 
FIG. 8. Colonnade and court of the temple at Luxor 

Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 9. Hypothetical reconstruction of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak 

From a model in the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 10. Colonnade of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak 

Underwood & Underwood 
> FIG. ii. The Rosetta Stone 

British Museum 
FIG. 12. Diorite head of the Pharaoh Khafre 

Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 13. The seated Scribe 

Louvre; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 14. Wooden figure of the "Sheik-el-Beled" 

Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FIG. 15. Sandstone head from the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose at 

State Museum, Berlin; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 1 6. Head of a king, probably Senusret III. 

Metropolitan Museum or Art 
FIG. 17. The royal falcon and serpent. Limestone relief from First Dynasty 

Louvre; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
* FIG. 1 8. Head of Thutmose III 

Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
XFiG. 19. Rameses II presenting an offering 

Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 20. Bronze figure or the Lady Tekoschet 

Athens Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of An 



FIG. 21. Seated figure of Montumihait 

State Museum, Berlin 

FIG. 22. Colossi of Rameses II, with life-size figures of Queen Nofretete at 
his feet, at the cave temple of Abu Simbel 

Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
FIG. 23. The dancing girl. Design on an ostracon 

Turin Museum, Italy 

FIG. 24. Cat watching his prey. A wall-painting in the grave of Khnumho- 
tep at Beni-Hasan 

Copy by Howard Carter; courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society 
x FIG. 25. Chair of Tutenkhamon 

Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 26. Painted limestone head of Ikhnaton's Queen Nofretete 

Metropolitan Museum of Art facsimile of original in State Museum, Berlin 
FIG. 27. The god Shamash transmits a code of laws to Hammurabi 

Louvre; photo copyright by W. A. Mansell & Co., London 
FIG. 28. The "Lion of Babylon." Painted tile-relief 

State Museum, Berlin; Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 29. Head of Esarhaddon 

State Museum, Berlin 
FIG. 30. The Prism of Sennacherib 

Iraq Museum; courtesy of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago 
FIG. 31. The Dying Lioness of Nineveh 

British Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 32. The Lion Hunt; relief on alabaster, from Nineveh 

British Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 33. Assyrian relief of Marduk fighting Tiamat, from Kalakh 

British Museum; photo copyright by W. A. Mansell, London 
FIG. 34. Winged Bull from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Kalakh 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 35. A street in Jerusalem 
FIG. 36. Hypothetical restoration of Solomon's Temple 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 37. The ruins of Persepolis 

Courtesy of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago 
FIG. 38. "Frieze of the Archers." Painted tile-relief from Susa 

Louvre; photo by Archives Photographiques d'Art et d'Histoire 
FIG. 39. Burning Ghat at Calcutta 

Bronson de Cou, from Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
; FIG. 40. "Holy Men" at Benares 
j FIG. 41. A fresco at Ajanta 
FIG. 42. Mogul painting of Durbar of Akbar at Akbarabad. Ca. 1620 

Boston Museum of Fine Arts 
FIG. 43. Torso of a youth, from Sanchi 

Victoria and Albert Museum, London 
FIG. 44. Seated statue of Brahma, loth century 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 


FIG. 45. The Buddha of Sarnath, 5th century 

Photo by A. K. Coomaraswamy 
\ FIG. 46. The Naga-King. Fagade relief on Ajanta Cave-temple XIX 

Courtesy of A. K. Coomaraswamy 
FIG. 47. The Dancing Shiva. South India, i7th century 

Minneapolis Institute of Arts 

> FIG. 48. The Three-faced Shiva, or Trimurti, Elephanta 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 49. The Buddha of Anuradhapura, Ceylon 

Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
FIG. 50. Lion capital of Ashoka column 

Sarnath Museum, Benares; copyright Archaeological Survey of India 
FIG. 51. Sanchi Tope, north gate 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 52. Fagade of the Gautami-Putra Monastery at Nasik 

India Office, London 
< N FIG. 53. Chaitya hall interior, Cave XXVI, Ajanta., 

FIG. 54. Interior of dome of the Tejahpala Temple at Mt. Abu 

Johnston & Hoffman, Calcutta 
FIG. 55. Temple of Vimala Sah at Mt. Abu 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 56. Cave XIX, Ajanta 

Indian State Railways 

> FIG. 57. Elephanta Caves, near Bombay 

By Cowling, from Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
X FIG. 58. The rock-cut Temple of Kailasha 
Indian State Railways 

> FIG. 59. Guardian deities, Temple of Elura 

Indian State Railways 
FIG. 60. Fagade, Angkor Wat, Indo-China 

Publishers' Photo Service 
; FIG. 61. Northeast end of Angkor Wat, Indo-China 

Publishers' Photo Service 
FIG. 62. Rabindranath Tagore 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 63. Ananda Palace at Pagan, Burma 
Underwood & Underwood 

> FIG. 64. The Taj Mahal, Agra 

Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
FIG. 65. Imperial jewel casket of blue lacquer 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 66. The lacquered screen of K'ang-hsi 

Victoria and Albert Museum, London 
FIG. 67. A bronze Kuan-yin of the Sui period 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 68. Summer Palace, Peiping 
FIG. 69. Temple of Heaven, Peiping 

Publishers' Photo Service 



FIG. 70. Portraits of Thirteen Emperors. Attributed to Yen Li-pen, 7th 

Boston Museum of Fine Arts 
FIG. 71. The Silk-beaters. By the Emperor Hui Tsung (1101-26) 

Boston Museum of Fine Arts 
FIG. 72. Landscape with Bridge and Willows. Ma Yuan, i2th century 

Boston Museum of Fine Arts 
FIG. 73. A hawthorn vase from the K'ang-hsi period 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 74. Geisha girls 

Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 

ftc. 75. Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, once a favorite resort of Japanese 

Underwood & Underwood 
FIG. 76. Yo-mei-mon Gate, Nikko 
FIG. 77. The Monkeys of Nikko. "Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" 

Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
FIG. 78. Image of Amida-Buddha at Horiuji 

Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 79. The bronze halo and background of the Amida at Horiuji. 

y Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FIG. 80. The Vairochana Buddha of Japan. Carved and lacquered wood. 
Ca. 950 A.D. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FiG. 8 1. The Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, at Kamakura 
FIG. 82. Monkeys and Birds. By Sesshiu, i5th century 
FIG. 83. A wave screen by Korin 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 84. The Falls of Yoro. By Hokusai 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 
FIG. 85. Foxes. By Hiroshige 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Maps or Egypt, the ancient Near East, India, and the Far East 
will be found on the inside covers 

Illustration Section 


FIG. i Granite statue of Rameses II 

FIG. 2 Bison painted in paleolithic cave at Altamira, Spam 
Photo by American Museum of Natural History 

(See page 96) 

FIG. 3- Hypothetical reconstruction of a neolithic lake dwelling 
American Museum of Natural History 

( See page 98) 






A A 



* B 






r r 





r ^ 























































P D 

















\y Y 



FIG. ^-Development of the alphabet 

1? c 

>O ! 


3 ^ jo f< 

. > 3 > 


FIG. i-Temple of Der-el-Bahri 
Photo by Lindslcy F. Hall 

(Sec page 154) 

FIG. 8- Colonnade and court of the temple at Luxor 
Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(See page 142) 

FIG. 9 Hypothetical reconstruction of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak 
From a model in the Metropolitan Museum of An 

FIG. 10 Colonnade of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak 
Underwood & Underwood 

(See page 143) 

FIG. 1 1 The Rosetta Stone 
British Museum 

(See page 145) 

FIG. iz-Diorite head of the Pharaoh Khafre 
Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(Seepages 148,186) 

FIG. ii-The seated Scribe 
Louvre; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(See pages 161, 

FIG. 14 
Wooden figure 

of the 


Cairo Museum; 

photo by Metro- 

politan Museum 

of Art 

(See pages 168, 186) 

FIG. i $ Sandstone bead \rotn the 
'workshop of the sculptor 

Thutmose at Amaru a 

State Museum, Berlin; photo by 

Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FIG. 1 6 Head of a king, probably 

Scmisret III 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FIG. ijThe royal falcon and 
serpent. Limestone relief from 

First Dynasty FIG. iBHead of Thutmose 111 

Louvre; photo by Metropolitan Museum Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan 

of Art Museum of Art 

(See pages 184-190) 


iiTan Tir 
jpP^WWfe' 1 ' 

.X '" 


FIG. lyRameses II presenting an offering 
Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FIG. 20 Bronze figure of the 

Lady Tekoschet 
Athens Museum; photo by Metro- 
politan Museum of An 

FIG. 21 Seated figure of 

State Museum, Berlin 

FIG. 23 The dancing girl. Design on an ostracon 
Turin Museum, Italy 

(See page lyi ) 

FIG. 24 Cat watching his prey. A 'wall-painting in the grave of Khnumhotep 

at Beni-Hasan 
Copy by Howard Carter; courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society 

(See page 190) 

FIG. 25 -Chair of Tutenkhamon 
Cairo Museum; photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(Seepage 19?) 

FIG. it-Painted limestone head of Ikhnaton's Queen Nofretete 

Metropolitan Museum of Art facsimile of original in State Museum, Berlin 

(See page 188) 

FIG. 2j-The god 
Shamash transmits 
a code of laws to 

Louvre; photo copy- 
right W. A. Manscll 
& Co., London 

(See page 219) 



FIG. 29 Head of Esarhaddon 
State Museum, Berlin 

(See page 28 i) 

FIG. $o-The Prism of Sennacherib 
Iraq Museum; courtesy of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago 

(See Chapter X) 

FIG. 32 The Lion Hunt; relief on alabaster, from Nineveh 
British Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art 

( See page 279) 

FIG. M-Assyrian relief of Marduk fighting Tiamat, from Kalakh 
British Museum; photo copyright by W. A. Mansell, London 

(See page 278) 

FIG. ^-Winged Bull from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Kalakh 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(See page 279) 

FIG. 35^4 street in Jerusalem 

FIG. ^Hypothetical restoration of Solomon's Temple 
Underwood & Underwood 

(See page 



FIG. 39- Burning Ghat at Calcutta 
Bronson de Cou, from Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 

(See page 

/fcdfe. **. 


FIG. 40 "Holy Men' 9 at Benares 

FIG. 41 /4 fresco at Ajanta 
(See pages $89-90) 

FIG. 42- Mogul painting of Durbar of Akbar at Akbarabad. Co. 1620 
Boston Museum of Fine Arti 

(See page 

FIG. 43-T07W of a youth, from Sanchi 
Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

( See pages 

FIG. ^.Seated statue of 

Brahma, loth century 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

FIG. 46 The Naga-King. 

Facade relief on Ajanta 

Cave-temple XIX 

Courtesy of 
A. K. Coomarasvvamv 

f S** ptf^M 5W-tf; 

FIG. 45 The Buddha of 

Sarnath, fth century 
Photo by A. K. Coomaraswamy 

FIG. 47-TA* Dancing Shiva. South India, nth century 
Minneapolis Institute of Arts 

(See page 594) 



FIG. 49. 

Buddha of Anuradhapura, Ceylon 
Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 

(Sec page w) 

FIG. soLion capital of Ashoka column 
Sarnath Museum, Benares; copyright Archaeological Survey of India 

( See page 596) 

FIG. $\Sanchi Tope, north gate 
Underwood & Underwood 

(See page 597) 

FIG. $2-Faeade of the Gautami-Putra Monastery at Nasik 
India Office, London 

(See page 

FIG. $$ Chatty a hall interior, Cave XXVI, Ajanta 

FIG. 54- Interior of dome of the Tejahpala Teinple at Mt. Abu 
Johnston & Hoffman, Calcutta 

(See page 

FIG. 55- -Temple of Vimala Sah at Mt. Abu 
Underwood & Underwood 

(See page 

FIG. $6-Cave X/X, Ajmta 
Indian State Railway! 

(See page 598) 

,^^;.. __,_,, 


j gj ^ 
R6 ? 

Q O 


FIG. 59 Guardian deities, Temple of Elura 

Indian State Railways 
(See page 601) 








FIG. 62Rabindranath 

Underwood & Underwood 

(See page 619) 

FIG. 6-$Ananda Palace at 
Pagan, Burma 

Undcr\\<>od & Underwood 

(See page 606) 

FIG. 64-77* Taj Mahal, Agra 

Ewing Galloway, N. Y. 
(See page 609) 

FIG. 65 Imperial jewel casket of blue lacquer 
Underwood & Underwood 

(See page 136) 

^v*-. '-2~ r *- 





v j 






FIG. 67^4 bronze Kuan-yin of the Sui period 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(See page -738) 

FIG. 68 Siniwjcr 
Palace, Peiping 

(Sec page 742) 

FIG. 69- Temple 
of Heaven, 


Publishers' Photo 


(See page 142) 

FIG. ji-The 


By the Emperor 

Hui Tsung 


Boston Museum 

of Fine Arts 

( See page jfo) 

FIG. 72 Land- 
scape with 
Bridge and 
Ma Yuan, 
i2th century 

Boston Museum 
of Fine Arts 

(See page ifi) 

FIG. T$A hawthorn vase from the K'ang-hsi period 
Metropolitan Museum of An 

(See page 





FIG. 7$Kiyoimzu Temple, Kyoto, once a favorite resort of Japanese suicides 

Underwood & Underwood 


FIG. 76Yo-wei-mon Gate, Nikko 

(See fiave ffoc) 

5G-3 *. 
3 o ^ 
* g 1 2 


FIG. 79 The bronze halo 

and background of the 

Amida at Horiuji 

Photo by 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(See page 

FIG. 78 Image of Amida- 
Buddha at Horiuji 

Photo by 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

(See page 897) 

FIG. 80 The Vairochana Buddha of Japan. Carved and lacquered wood. 

Ca. 950 A.D. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

( See pages 896-8) 

FIG. 8 1 The Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, at Kamakura 

(See page 898) 






"I want to know what were the steps by 
which men passed from barbarism to 



The Conditions of Civilization* 

Definition Geological conditions Geographical Economic 
Racial Psychological Causes of the decay of civilizations 

/CIVILIZATION is social order promoting cultural creation. Four 
\^Jl elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, 
moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins 
where chaos and insecurity end. For when fear is overcome, curiosity and 
constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the 
understanding and embellishment of life. 

Certain factors condition civilization, and may encourage or impede it. 
First, geological conditions. Civilization is an interlude between ice ages: 
at any time the current of glaciation may rise again, cover with ice and 
stone the works of man, and reduce life to some narrow segment of the 
earth. Or the demon of earthquake, by whose leave we build our cities, 
may shrug his shoulders and consume us indifferently. 

Second, geographical conditions. The heat of the tropics, and the in- 
numerable parasites that infest them, are hostile to civilization; lethargy 
and disease, and a precocious maturity and decay, divert the energies from 
those inessentials of life that make civilization, and absorb them in hunger 
and reproduction; nothing is left for the play of the arts and the mind. 
Rain is necessary; for water is the medium of life, more important even 
than the light of the sun; the unintelligible whim of the elements may 
condemn to desiccation regions that once flourished with empire and in- 
dustry, like Nineveh or Babylon, or may help to swift strength and wealth 
cities apparently off the main line of transport and communication, like 
those of Great Britain or Puget Sound. If the soil is fertile in food or 
minerals, if rivers offer an easy avenue of exchange, if the coast-line is 
indented with natural harbors for a commercial fleet, if, above all, a nation 
lies on the highroad of the world's trade, like Athens or Carthage, Flor- 

* The reader will find, at the end of this volume, a glossary defining foreign terms, a 
bibliography with guidance for further reading, a pronouncing index, and a body of 
references corresponding to the superior figures in die text. 


ence or Venice then geography, though it can never create it, smiles upon 
civilization, and nourishes it. 

Economic conditions are more important. A people may possess or- 
dered institutions, a lofty moral code, and even a flair for the minor forms 
of art, like the American Indians; and yet if it remains in the hunting stage, 
if it depends for its existence upon the precarious fortunes of the chase, it 
will never quite pass from barbarism to civilization. A nomad stock, like the 
Bedouins of Arabia, may be exceptionally intelligent and vigorous, it may 
display high qualities of character like courage, generosity and nobility; 
but without that simple sine qua non of culture, a continuity of food, its 
intelligence will be lavished on the perils of the hunt and the tricks of 
trade, and nothing will remain for the laces and frills, the curtsies and 
amenities, the arts and comforts, of civilization. The first form of culture 
is agriculture. It is when man settles down to tilTltlie soil and lay up pro- 
visions for the uncertain future that he finds time and reason to be civilized. 
Within that little circle of security a reliable supply of water and food- 
he builds his huts, his temples and his schools; he invents productive tools, 
and domesticates the dog, the ass, the pig, at last himself. He learns to 
work with regularity and order, maintains a longer tenure of life, and 
transmits more completely than before the mental and moral heritage of 
his race. 

Culture suggests agriculture, but civilization suggests the city. In one 
aspect civilization is the habit of civility; and civility is the refinement 
which townsmen, who made the word, thought possible only in the 
civitas or city.* For in the city are gathered, rightly or wrongly, the 
wealth and brains produced in the countryside; in the city invention and 
industry multiply comforts, luxuries and leisure; in the city traders meet, 
and barter goods and ideas; in that cross-fertilization of minds at the cross- 
roads of trade intelligence is sharpened and stimulated to creative power. 
In the city some men are set aside from the making of material things, and 
produce science and philosophy, literature and art. Civilization begins in 
the peasant's hut, but it comes to flower only in the towns. 

There are no racial conditions to civilization. It may appear on any 
continent and in any color: at Pekin or Delhi, at Memphis or Babylon, at 
Ravenna or London, in Peru or Yucatan. It is not the great race that makes 

The word civilization (Latin inrifc-pertaining to the chris, citizen) is comparatively 
young. Despite BoswelTs suggestion Johnson refused to admit it to his Dictionary in 1772; 
he preferred to use the word civility.* 


the civilization, it is the great civilization that makes the people; circum- 
stances geographical and economic create a culture, and the culture 
creates a type. The Englishman does not make British civilization, it makes 
him; if he carries it with him wherever he goes, and dresses for dinner 
in Timbuktu, it is not that he is creating his civilization there anew, but 
that he acknowledges even there its mastery over his soul. Given like ma- 
terial conditions, and another race would beget like results; Japan repro- 
duces in the twentieth century the history of England in the nineteenth. 
Qvilization is related to race only in the sense that it is often preceded by 
the slow intermarriage of different stocks, and their gradual assimilation 
into a relatively homogeneous people.* 

These physical and biological conditions are only prerequisites to civ- 
ilization; they do not constitute or generate it. Subtle psychological 
factors must enter into play. There must be political order, even if it be so 
near to chaos as in Renaissance Florence or Rome; men must feel, by and 
large, that they need not look for death or taxes at every turn. There must 
be some unity of language to serve as a medium of mental exchange. 
Through church, or family, or school, or otherwise, there must be a uni- 
fying moral code, some rules of the game of life acknowledged even by 
those who violate them, and giving to conduct some order and regularity, 
some direction and stimulus. Perhaps there must also be some unity of basic 
belief, some faith, supernatural or Utopian, that lifts morality from calcu- 
lation to devotion, and gives life nobility and significance despite our 
mortal brevity. And finally there must be education some technique, 
however primitive, for the transmission of culture. Whether through imi- 
tation, initiation or instruction, whether through father or mother, teacher 
or priest, the lore and heritage of the tribe its language and knowledge, 
its morals and manners, its technology and arts must be handed down to 
the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from 
animals into men. 

The disappearance of these conditions sometimes of even one of them 
may destroy a civilization. A geological cataclysm or a profound cli- 
matic change; an uncontrolled epidemic like that which wiped out half the 
population of the Roman Empire under the Antonines, or the Black Death 
that helped to end the Feudal Age; the exhaustion of the land, or the ruin 

* Blood, as distinct from race, may affect a civilization in the sense that a nation may 
be retarded or advanced by breeding from the biologically (not racially) worse or better 
strains among the people. 


of agriculture through the exploitation of the country by the town, result- 
ing in a precarious dependence upon foreign food supplies; the failure of 
natural resources, either of fuels or of raw materials; a change in trade 
routes, leaving a nation off the main line of the world's commerce; mental 
or moral decay from the strains, stimuli and contacts of urban life, from 
the breakdown of traditional sources of social discipline and the inability 
to replace them; the weakening of the stock by a disorderly sexual life, or 
by an epicurean, pessimist, or quietist philosophy; the decay of leadership 
through the infertility of the able, and the relative smallness of the fami- 
lies that might bequeath most fully the cultural inheritance of the race; a 
pathological concentration of wealth, leading to class wars, disruptive 
revolutions, and financial exhaustion: these are some of the ways in which 
a civilization may die. For civilization is not something inborn or imper- 
ishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation, and any serious 
interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end. Man 
differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the 
technique of transmitting civilization. 

Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul. As family-rearing, 
and then writing, bound the generations together, handing down the lore 
of the dying to the young, so print and commerce and a thousand ways 
of communication may bind the civilizations together, and preserve for 
future cultures all that is of value for them in our own. Let us, before 
we die, gather up our heritage, and offer it to our children. 


The Economic Elements 
of Civilization* 

IN one important sense the "savage," too, is civilized, for he carefully 
transmits to his children the heritage of the tribe that complex of 
economic, political, mental and moral habits and institutions which it has 
developed in its efforts to maintain and enjoy itself on the earth. It is 
impossible to be scientific here; for in calling other human beings "savage" 
or "barbarous" we may be expressing no objective fact, but only our fierce 
fondness for ourselves, and our timid shyness in the presence of alien ways. 
Doubtless we underestimate these simple peoples, who have so much to 
teach us in hospitality and morals; if we list the bases and constituents of 
civilization we shall find that the naked nations invented or arrived at all 
but one of them, and left nothing for us to add except embellishments and 
writing. Perhaps they, too, were once civilized, and desisted from it as a 
nuisance. We must make sparing use of such terms as "savage" and "bar- 
barous" in referring to our "contemporaneous ancestry." Preferably we 
shall call "primitive" all tribes that make little or no provision for un- 
productive days, and little or no use of writing. In contrast, the civilized 
may be defined as literate providers. 


Primitive improvidence Beginnings of provision Hunting and 
fishing Herding The domestication of animals Agri- 
culture Food Cooking Cannibalism 

"Three meals a day are a highly advanced institution. Savages gorge 
themselves or fast." 1 The wilder tribes among the American Indians con- 

* Despite recent high example to the contrary, 1 the word civilization will be used in 
this volume to mean social organization, moral order, and cultural activity; while culture 
will mean, according to the context, cither the practice of manners and the arts, or the 
sum-total of a people's institutions, customs and arts. It is in the latter sense that the 
word culture will be used 'in reference to primitive or prehistoric societies. 


sidered it weak-kneed and unseemly to preserve food for the next day." 
The natives of Australia are incapable of any labor whose reward is not 
immediate; every Hottentot is a gentleman of leisure; and with the Bush- 
men of Africa it is always "either a feast or a famine." 4 There is a mute 
wisdom in this improvidence, as in many "savage" ways. The moment 
man begins to take thought of the morrow he passes out of the Garden of 
Eden into the vale of anxiety; the pale cast of worry settles down upon 
him, greed is sharpened, property begins, and the good cheer of the 
"thoughtless" native disappears. The American Negro is making this 
transition today. "Of what are you thinking?" Peary asked one of his 
Eskimo guides. "I do not have to think," was the answer; "I have plenty 
of meat." Not to think unless we have to there is much to be said for this 
as the summation of wisdom. 

Nevertheless, there were difficulties in this care-lessness, and those or- 
ganisms that outgrew it came to possess a serious advantage in the struggle 
for survival. The dog that buried .the bone which even a canine appetite 
could not manage, the squirrel that gathered nuts for a later feast, the 
bees that filled the comb with honey, the ants that laid up stores for a 
rainy day these were among the first creators of civilization. It was they, 
or other subtle creatures like them, who taught our ancestors the art of 
providing for tomorrow out of the surplus of today, or of preparing for 
winter in summer's time of plenty. 

With what skill those ancestors ferreted out, from land and sea, the food 
that was the basis of their simple societies! They grubbed edible things 
from the earth with bare hands; they imitated or used the claws and tusks 
of the animals, and fashioned tools out of ivory, bone or stone; they made 
nets and traps and snares of rushes or fibre, and devised innumerable 
artifices for fishing and hunting their prey. The Polynesians had nets a 
thousand ells long, which could be handled only by a hundred men; in such 
ways economic provision grew hand in hand with political organization, 
and the united quest for food helped to generate the state. The Tlingit 
fisherman put upon his head a cap like the head of a seal, and hiding his 
body among the rocks, made a noise like a seal; seals came toward him, 
and he speared them with the clear conscience of primitive war. Many 
tribes threw narcotics into the streams to stupefy the fish into cooperation 
with the fishermen; the Tahitians, for example, put into the water an in- 
toxicating mixture prepared from the butco nut or the hora plant; the 
fish, drunk with it, floated leisurely on the surface, and were caught at the 


anglers' will. Australian natives, swimming under water while breathing 
through a reed, pulled ducks beneath the surface by the legs, and gently 
held them there rill they were pacified. The Tarahumaras caught birds by 
stringing kernels on tough fibres half buried under the ground; the birds 
ate the kernels, and the Tarahumaras ate the birds." 

Hunting is now to most of us a game, whose relish seems based upon 
some mystic remembrance, in the blood, of ancient days when to hunter as 
well as hunted it was a matter of life and death. For hunting was not 
merely a quest for food, it was a war for security and mastery, a war 
beside which all the wars of recorded history are but a little noise. In the 
jungle man still fights for his life, for though there is hardly an animal 
that will attack him unless it is desperate for food or cornered in the chase, 
yet there is not always food for all, and sometimes only the fighter, or the 
breeder of fighters, is allowed to eat. We see in our museums the relics 
of that war of the species in the knives, clubs, spears, arrows, lassos, bolas, 
lures, traps, boomerangs and slings with which primitive men won posses- 
sion of the land, and prepared to transmit to an ungrateful posterity the 
gift of security from every beast except man. Even today, after all 
these wars of elimination, how many different populations move over the 
earth! Sometimes, during a walk in the woods, one is awed by the variety 
of languages spoken there, by the myriad species of insects, reptiles, carni- 
vores and birds; one feels that man is an interloper on this crowded scene, 
that he is the object of universal dread and endless hostility. Some day, 
perhaps, these chattering quadrupeds, these ingratiating centipedes, these 
insinuating bacilli, will devour man and all his works, and free the planet 
from this marauding biped, these mysterious and unnatural weapons, these 
careless feet! 

Hunting and fishing were not stages in economic development, they 
were modes of activity destined to survive into the highest forms of civil- 
ized society. Once the center of life, they are still its hidden foundations; 
behind our literature and philosophy, our ritual and art, stand the stout 
killers of Packingtown. We do our hunting by proxy, not having the 
stomach for honest killing in the fields; but our memories of the chase 
linger in our joyful pursuit of anything weak or fugitive, and in the games 
of our children even in the word game. In the last analysis civilization is 
based upon the food supply. The cathedral and the capitol, the museum 
and the concert chamber, the library and the university are the fajade; 
in the rear are the shambles. 


To live by hunting was not original; if man had confined himself to 
that he would have been just another carnivore. He began to be human 
when out of the uncertain hunt he developed the greater security and 
continuity of the pastoral life. For this involved advantages of high import- 
ance: the domestication of animals, the breeding of cattle, and the use of 
milk. We do not know when or how domestication began perhaps when 
the helpless young of slain beasts were spared and brought to the camp 
as playthings for the children.' The animal continued to be eaten, but 
not so soon; it acted as a beast of burden, but it was accepted almost demo- 
cratically into the society of man; it became his comrade, and formed 
with him a community of labor and residence. The miracle of reproduc- 
tion was brought under control, and two captives were multiplied into a 
herd. Animal milk released women from prolonged nursing, lowered 
infantile mortality, and provided a new and dependable food. Population 
increased, life became more stable and orderly, and the mastery of that 
timid parvenu, man, became more secure on the earth. 

Meanwhile woman was making the greatest economic discovery of 
all the bounty of the soil. While man hunted she grubbed about the tent 
or hut for whatever edible things lay ready to her hand on the ground. In 
Australia it was understood that during the absence of her mate on the 
chase the wife would dig for roots, pluck fruit and nuts from the trees, 
and collect honey, mushrooms, seeds and natural grains/ Even today, in 
certain tribes of Australia, the grains that grow spontaneously out of the 
earth are harvested without any attempt to separate and sow the seed; the 
Indians of the Sacramento River Valley never advanced beyond this stage." 
We shall never discover when men first noted the function of the seed, and 
turned collecting into sowing; such beginnings are the mysteries of his- 
tory, about which we may believe and guess, but cannot know. It is 
possible that when men began to collect implanted grains, seeds fell along 
the way between field and camp, and suggested at last the great secret 
of growth. The Juangs threw the seeds together into the ground, leaving 
them to find their own way up. The natives of Borneo put the seed into 
holes which they dug with a pointed stick as they walked the fields. 9 The 
simplest known culture of the earth is with this stick or "digger." In Mada- 
gascar fifty years ago the traveler could still see women armed with pointed 
sticks, standing in a row like soldiers, and then, at a signal, digging their 
sticks into the ground, turning over the soil, throwing in the seed, stamp- 
ing the earth flat, and passing on to another furrow. 10 The second stage in 


complexity was culture with the hoe: the digging stick was tipped with 
bone, and fitted with a crosspiece to receive the pressure of the foot. 
When the Conquistadores arrived in Mexico they found that the Aztecs 
knew no other tool of tillage than the hoe. With the domestication of 
animals and the forging of metals a heavier implement could be used; the 
hoe was enlarged into a plough, and the deeper turning of the soil revealed 
a fertility in the earth that changed the whole career of man. Wild plants 
were domesticated, new varieties were developed, old varieties were 

Finally nature taught man the art of provision, the virtue of prudence,* 
the concept of time. Watching woodpeckers storing acorns in the trees, 
and the bees storing honey in hives, man conceivedperhaps after millen- 
niums of improvident savagerythe notion of laying up food for the future. 
He found ways of preserving meat by smoking it, salting it, freezing it; 
better still, he built granaries secure from rain and damp, vermin and 
thieves, and gathered food into them for the leaner months of the year. 
Slowly it became apparent that agriculture could provide a better and 
steadier food supply than hunting. With that realization man took one of 
the three steps that led from the beast to civilization speech, agriculture, 
and writing. 

It is not to be supposed that man passed suddenly from hunting to 
tillage. Many tribes, like the American Indians, remained permanently 
becalmed in the transition the men given to the chase, the women tilling 
the soil. Not only was the change presumably gradual, but it was never 
complete. Man merely added a new way of securing food to an old way; 
and for the most part, throughout his history, he has preferred the old 
food to the new. We picture early man experimenting with a thousand 
products of the earth to find, at much cost to his inward comfort, which 
of them could be eaten safely; mingling these more and more with the 
fruits and nuts, the flesh and fish he was accustomed to, but always yearn- 
ing for the booty of the chase. Primitive peoples are ravenously fond of 
meat, even when they live mainly on cereals, vegetables and milk." 
If they come upon the carcass of a recently dead animal the result is likely 
to be a wild debauch. Very often no time is wasted on cooking; the prey 
is eaten raw, as fast as good teeth can tear and devour it; soon nothing is 
left but the bones. Whole tribes have been known to feast for a week on a 

* Note the ultimate identity of the words provision, providence and prudence. 


whale thrown up on the shore." Though the Fuegians can cook, they 
prefer their meat raw; when they catch a fish they kill it by biting it behind 
the gills, and then consume it from head to tail without further ritual." 
The uncertainty of the food supply made these nature peoples almost lit- 
erally omnivorous: shellfish, sea urchins, frogs, toads, snails, mice, rats, 
spiders, earthworms, scorpions, moths, centipedes, locusts, caterpillars, liz- 
ards, snakes, boas, dogs, horses, roots, lice, insects, larvae, the eggs of rep- 
tiles and birds there is not one of these but was somewhere a delicacy, or 
. even a piece de resistance, to primitive men. u Some tribes are expert hunt- 
ers of ants; others dry insects in the sun and then store them for a feast; 
others pick the lice out of one another's hair, and eat them with relish; 
if a great number of lice can be gathered to make a petite marmite,'\hey 
are devoured with shouts of joy, as enemies of the human race. 15 The 
menu of the lower hunting tribes hardly differs from that of the higher 
apes. 1 " 

The discovery of fire limited this indiscriminate voracity, and cooperated 
with agriculture to free man from the chase. Cooking broke down the 
cellulose and starch of a thousand plants indigestible in their raw state, 
and man turned more and more to cereals and vegetables as his chief reli- 
ance. At the same time cooking, by softening tough foods, reduced the 
need of chewing, and began that decay of the teeth which is one of the 
insignia of civilization. 

To all the varied articles of diet that we have enumerated, man added 
the greatest delicacy of all his fellowman. Cannibalism was at one 
time practically universal; it has been found in nearly all primitive tribess, 
and among such later peoples as the Irish, the Iberians, the Picts, and the 
eleventh-century Danes." Among many tribes human flesh was a staple 
of trade, and funerals were unknown. In the Upper Congo living men, 
women and children were bought and sold frankly as articles of food; 1 * 
on the island of New Britain human meat was sold in shops as butcher's 
meat is sold among ourselves; and in some of the Solomon Islands human 
victims, preferably women, were fattened for a feast like pigs. 19 The 
Fuegians ranked women above dogs because, they said, "dogs taste of 
otter." In Tahiti an old Polynesian chief explained his diet to Pierre Loti: 
'The white man, when well roasted, tastes like a ripe banana." The Fiji- 
ans, however, complained that the flesh of the whites was too salty and 
tough, and that a European sailor was hardly fit to eat; a Polynesian tasted 


What was the origin of this practice? There is no surety that the 
custom arose, as formerly supposed, out of a shortage of other food; if it 
did, the taste once formed survived the shortage, and became a passionate 
predilection.* Everywhere among nature peoples blood is regarded as a 
delicacy never with horror; even primitive vegetarians take to it with 
gusto. Human blood is constantly drunk by tribes otherwise kindly and 
generous; sometimes as medicine, sometimes as a rite or covenant, often 
in the belief that it will add to the drinker the vital force of the victim." 
No shame was felt in preferring human flesh; primitive man seems to have 
recognized no distinction in morals between eating men and eating other 
animals. In Melanesia the chief who could treat his friends to a dish of 
roast man soared in social esteem. "When I have slain an enemy," ex- 
plained a Brazilian philosopher-chief, "it is surely better to eat him than 
to let him waste. . . . The worst is not to be eaten, but to die; if I am 
killed it is all the same whether my tribal enemy eats me or not. But I 
could not think of any game that would taste better than he would. . . . 
You whites are really too dainty."" 

Doubtless the custom had certain social advantages. It anticipated Dean 
Swift's plan for the utilization of superfluous children, and it gave the old 
an opportunity to die usefully. There is a point of view from which funer- 
als seem an unnecessary extravagance. To Montaigne it appeared more 
barbarous to torture a man to death under the cover of piety, as was the 
mode of his time, than to roast and eat him after he was dead. We must 
respect one another's delusions. 


FirePrimitive ToolsWeaving and pottery Building and trans- 
portTrade and finance 

If man began with speech, and civilization with agriculture, industry 
began with fire. Man did not invent it; probably nature produced the 
marvel for him by the friction of leaves or twigs, a stroke of lightning, or 
a chance union of chemicals; man merely had the saving wit to imitate 
nature, and to improve upon her. He put the wonder to a thousand uses. 
First, perhaps, he made it serve as a torch to conquer his fearsome enemy, 
the dark; then he used it for warmth, and moved more freely from his 
native tropics to less enervating zones, slowly making the planet human; 
then he applied it to metals, softening them, tempering them, and com- 


bining them into forms stronger and suppler than those in which they had 
come to his hand. So beneficent and strange was it that fire always re- 
mained a miracle to primitive man, fit to be worshiped as a god; he offered 
it countless ceremonies of devotion, and made it the center or focus (which 
is Latin for hearth) of his life and home; he carried it carefully with him 
as he moved from place to place in his wanderings, and would not will- 
ingly let it die. Even the Romans punished with death the careless vestal 
virgin who allowed the sacred fire to be extinguished. 

Meanwhile, in the midst of hunting, herding and agriculture, invention 
was busy, and the primitive brain was racking itself to find mechanical 
answers to the economic puzzles of life. At first man was content, appar- 
ently, to accept what nature offered him the fruits of the earth as his 
food, the skins and furs of the animals as his clothing, the caves in the 
hillsides as his home. Then, perhaps (for most history is guessing, and the 
rest is prejudice), he imitated the tools and industry of the animal: he saw 
the monkey flinging rocks and fruit upon his enemies, or breaking open 
nuts and oysters with a stone; he saw the beaver building a dam, the birds 
making nests and bowers, the chimpanzees raising something very like a 
hut. He envied the power of their claws, teeth, tusks and horns, and the 
toughness of their hides; and he set to work to fashion tools and weapons 
that would resemble and rival these. Man, said Franklin, is a tool-using 
animal;** but this, too, like the other distinctions on which we plume our- 
selves, is only a difference of degree. 

Many tools lay potential in the plant world that surrounded primitive 
man. From the bamboo he made shafts, knives, needles and bottles; out of 
branches he made tongs, pincers and vices; from bark and fibres he wove 
cord and clothing of a hundred kinds. Above all, he made himself a stick. 
It was a modest invention, but its uses were so varied that man always 
looked upon it as a symbol of power and authority, from the wand of the 
fairies and the staff of the shepherd to the rod of Moses or Aaron, the 
ivory cane of the Roman consul, the lituus of the augurs, and the mace 
of the magistrate or the king. In agriculture the stick became the hoe; in 
war it became the lance or javelin or spear, the sword or bayonet." Again, 
man used the mineral world, and shaped stones into a museum of arms 
and implements: hammers, anvils, kettles, scrapers, arrow-heads, saws, 
planes, wedges, levers, axes and drills, from the animal world he made 
ladles, spoons, vases, gourds, plates, cups, razors and hooks out of the 
shells of the shore, and tough or dainty tools out of the horn or ivory, the 


teeth and bones, the hair and hide of the beasts. Most of these fashioned 
articles had handles of wood, attached to them in cunning ways, bound 
with braids of fibre or cords of animal sinew, and occasionally glued 
with strange mixtures of blood. The ingenuity of primitive men prob- , 
ably equaled perhaps it surpassed that of the average modern man; we 
differ from them through the social accumulation of knowledge, materials 
and tools, rather than through innate superiority of brains. Indeed, nature 
men delight in mastering the necessities of a situation with inventive wit. 
It was a favorite game among the Eskimos to go off into difficult and de- 
serted places, and rival one another in devising means for meeting the 
needs of a life unequipped and unadorned." 

* This primitive skill displayed itself proudly in the art of weaving. Here, 
too, the animal showed man the way. The web of the spider, the nest of 
the bird, the crossing and texture of fibres and leaves in the natural em- 
broidery of the woods, set an example so obvious that in all probability weav- 
ing was one of the earliest arts of the human race. Bark, leaves and grass 
fibres were woven into clothing, carpets and tapestry, sometimes so excellent 
that it could not be rivaled today, even with the resources of contemporary 
machinery. Aleutian women may spend a year in weaving one robe. The 
blankets and garments made by the North American Indians were richly 
ornamented with fringes and embroideries of hairs and tendon-threads dyed 
in brilliant colors with berry juice; colors "so alive," says Father Thcodut, 
"that ours do not seem even to approach them."* 7 Again art began where 
nature left off; the bones of birds and fishes, and the slim shoots of the 
bamboo tree, were polished into needles, and the tendons of animals were 
drawn into threads delicate enough to pass through the eye of the finest 
needle today. Bark was beaten into mats and cloths, skins were dried for 
clothing and shoes, fibres were twisted into the strongest yarn, and supple 
branches and colored filaments were woven into baskets more beautiful than 
any modern forms." 

Akin to basketry, perhaps born of it, was the art of pottery. Clay placed 
upon wickerwork to keep the latter from being burned, hardened into a 
fireproof shell which kept its form when the wickerwork was taken away;" 
this may have been the first stage of a development that was to culminate 
in the perfect porcelains of China. Or perhaps some lumps of clay, baked 
and hardened by the sun, suggested the ceramic art; it was but a step from 
this to substitute fire for the sun, and to form from the earth myriad shapes 
of vessels for every use for cooking, storing and transporting, at last for 

* Reduced type, unindented, will be used occasionally for technical or dispensable matter. 


.luxury and ornament. Designs imprinted by finger-nail or tool upon the 
wet clay were one of the first forms of art, and perhaps one of the origins 
*of writing. 

Out of sun-dried clay primitive tribes made bricks and adobe, and dwelt, 
so to speak, in pottery. But that was a late stage of the building art, bind- 
ing the mud hut of the "savage" in a chain of continuous development with 
the brilliant tiles of Nineveh and Babylon. Some primitive peoples, like the 
Veddahs of Ceylon, had no dwellings at all, and were content with the 
earth and the sky; some, like the Tasmanians, slept in hollow trees; some, 
like the natives of New South Wales, lived in caves; others, like the Bush- 
men, built here and there a wind-shelter of branches, or, more rarely, drove 
piles into the soil and covered their tops with moss and twigs. From such 
wind-shelters, when sides were added, evolved the hut, which is found 
among the natives of Australia in all its stages from a tiny cottage of 
branches, grass and earth large enough to cover two or three persons, to 
great huts housing thirty or more. The nomad hunter or herdsman pre- 
ferred a tent, which he could carry wherever the chase might lead him. 
The higher type of nature peoples, like the American Indian, built with 
wood; the Iroquois, for example, raised, out of timber still bearing the 
bark, sprawling edifices five hundred feet long, which sheltered many fami- 
lies. Finally, the natives of Oceania made real houses of carefully cut boards, 
and the evolution of the wooden dwelling was complete.* 

Only three further developments were needed for primitive man to 
create all the essentials of economic civilization: the mechanisms of trans- 
port, the processes of trade, and the medium of exchange. The porter 
carrying his load from a modern plane pictures the earliest and latest stages 
in the history of transportation. In the beginning, doubtless, man was his 
own beast of burden, unless he was married; to this day, for the most part, 
in southern and eastern Asia, man is wagon and donkey and all. Then he 
invented ropes, levers, and pulleys; he conquered and loaded the animal; 
he made the first sledge by having his cattle draw along the ground long 
branches bearing his goods;* he put logs as rollers under the sledge; he cut 
cross-sections of the log, and made the greatest of all mechanical inven- 
tions, the wheel; he put wheels under the sledge and made a cart. Other 
logs he bound together as rafts, or dug into canoes; and the streams be- 
came his most convenient avenues of transport. By land he went first 
through trackless fields and hills, then by trails, at last by roads. He studied 
the stars, and guided his caravans across mountains and deserts by tracing 

* The American Indians, content with this device, never used the wheel. 


his route in the sky. He paddled, rowed or sailed his way bravely from 
island to island, and at last spanned oceans to spread his modest culture 
from continent to continent. Here, too, the main problems were solved 
before written history began. 

Since human skills and natural resources are diversely and unequally 
distributed, a people may be enabled, by the development of specific talents, 
or by its proximity to needed materials, to produce certain articles more 
cheaply than its neighbors. Of such articles it makes more than it con- 
sumes, and offers its surplus to other peoples in exchange for their own; 
this is the origin of trade. The Chibcha Indians of Colombia exported 
the rock salt that abounded in their territory, and received in return the 
cereals that could not be raised on their barren soil. Certain American 
Indian villages were almost entirely devoted to making arrow-heads; some 
in New Guinea to making pottery; some in Africa to blacksmithing, or to 
making boats or lances. Such specializing tribes or villages sometimes ac- 
quired the names of their industry (Smith, Fisher, Potter . . . ), and these 
names were in time attached to specializing families. 3011 Trade in surpluses 
was at first by an interchange of gifts; even in our calculating days a 
present (if only a meal) sometimes precedes or seals a trade. The ex- 
change was facilitated by war, robbery, tribute, fines, and compensation; 
goods had to be kept moving! Gradually an orderly system of barter 
grew up, and trading posts, markets and bazaars were established occa- 
sionally, then periodically, then permanently where those who had some 
article in excess might offer it for some article of need. 81 

For a long time commerce was purely such exchange, and centuries 
passed before a circulating medium of value was invented to quicken trade. 
A Dyak might be seen wandering for days through a bazaar, with a ball of 
beeswax in his hand, seeking a customer who could offer him in return 
something that he might more profitably use. 88 The earliest mediums of 
exchange were articles universally in demand, which anyone would take 
in payment: dates, salt, skins, furs, ornaments, implements, weapons; in 
such traffic two knives equaled one pair of stockings, all three equaled 
a blanket, all four equaled a gun, all five equaled a horse; two elk-teeth 
equaled one pony, and eight ponies equaled a wife. 88 There is hardly any 
thing that has not been employed as money by some people at some time: 
beans, fish-hooks, shells, pearls, beads, cocoa seeds, tea, pepper, at last 
sheep, pigs, cows, and slaves. Cattle were a convenient standard of value 
and medium of exchange among hunters and herders; they bore interest 


through breeding, and they were easy to carry, since they transported 
themselves. Even in Homer's days men and things were valued in terms 
of cattle: the armor of Diomedes was worth nine head of cattle, a skilful 
slave was worth four. The Romans used kindred words pecus and 
'pecuniafor cattle and money, and placed the image of an ox upon their 
early coins. Our own words capital, chattel and cattle go back through 
the French to the Latin capitale, meaning property: and this in turn 
derives from caput, meaning head i.e., of cattle. When metals were 
mined they slowly replaced other articles as standards of value; copper, 
bronze, iron, finallybecause of their convenient representation of great 
worth in little space and weight silver and gold, became the money of 
mankind. The advance from token goods to a metallic currency does not 
seem to have been made by primitive men; it was left for the historic 
civilizations to invent coinage and credit, and so, by further facilitating 
the exchange of surpluses, to increase again the wealth and comfort of 
man. 84 


Primitive communism Causes of its disappearance Origins of 
private property Slavery Classes 

Trade was the great disturber of the primitive world, for until it came, 
bringing money and profit in its wake, there was no property, and there- 
fore little government. In the early stages of economic development 
property was limited for the most part to things personally used; the 
property sense applied so strongly to such articles that they (even the 
wife) were often buried with their owner; it applied so weakly to things 
not personally used that in their case the sense of property, far from being 
innate, required perpetual reinforcement and inculcation. 

Almost everywhere, among primitive peoples, land was owned by the 
community. The North American Indians, the natives of Peru, the 
Chittagong Hill tribes of India, the Borneans and South Sea Islanders seem 
to have owned and tilled the soil in common, and to have shared the fruits 
together. "The land," said the Omaha Indians, "is like water and wind 
what cannot be sold." In Samoa the idea of selling land was unknown 
prior to the coming of the white man. Professor Rivers found communism 
in land still existing in Melanesia and Polynesia; and in inner Liberia it 
may be observed today. 36 

Only less widespread was communism in food. It was usual among 


"savages" for the man who had food to share it with the man who had 
none, for travelers to be fed at any home they chose to stop at on their 
way, and for communities harassed with drought to be maintained by 
their neighbors. 88 If a man sat down to his meal in the woods he was 
expected to call loudly for some one to come and share it with him, before 
he might justly eat alone. 87 When Turner told a Samoan about the poor in 
London the "savage" asked in astonishment: "How is it? No food? No 
friends? No house to live in? Where did he grow? Are there no 
houses belonging to his friends?" 88 The hungry Indian had but to ask to 
receive; no matter how small the supply was, food was given him if he 
needed it; "no one can want food while there is corn anywhere in the 
town." 89 Among the Hottentots it was the custom for one who had more 
than others to share his surplus till all were equal. White travelers in 
Africa before the advent of civilization noted that a present of food or 
other valuables to a "black man" was at once distributed; so that when 
a suit of clothes was given to one of them the donor soon found the 
recipient wearing the hat, a friend the trousers, another friend the coat. 
The Eskimo hunter had no personal right to his catch; it had to be divided 
among the inhabitants of the village, and tools and provisions were the 
common property of all. The North American Indians were described 
by Captain Carver as "strangers to all distinctions of property, except in 
the articles of domestic use. . . . They are extremely liberal to each other, 
and supply the deficiencies of their friends with any superfluity of their 
own." "What is extremely surprising," reports a missionary, "is to see 
them treat one another with a gentleness and consideration which one does 
not find among common people in the most civilized nations. This, doubt- 
less, arises from the fact that the words 'mine' and 'thine,' which St. 
Chrysostom says extinguish in our hearts the fire of charity and kindle 
that of greed, are unknown to these savages." "I have seen them," says 
another observer, "divide game among themselves when they sometimes 
had many shares to make; and cannot recollect a single instance of their 
falling into a dispute or finding fault with the distribution as being unequal 
or otherwise objectionable. They would rather lie down themselves on 
an empty stomach than have it laid to their charge that they neglected 
to satisfy the needy. . . . They look upon themselves as but one great 

Why did this primitive communism disappear as men rose to what we, 
with some partiality, call civilization? Sumner believed that communism 


proved unbiological, a handicap in the struggle for existence; that it gave 
insufficient stimulus to inventiveness, industry and thrift; and that the 
failure to reward the more able, and punish the less able, made for a level- 
ing of capacity which was hostile to growth or to successful competition 
with other groups. 41 Loskiel reported some Indian tribes of the northeast 
as "so lazy that they plant nothing themselves, but rely entirely upon the 
expectation that others will not refuse to share their produce with them. 
Since the industrious thus enjoy no more of the fruits of their labor than 
the idle, they plant less every year." 41 Darwin thought that the perfect 
equality among the Fuegians was fatal to any hope of their becoming 
civilized; 48 or, as the Fuegians might have put it, civilization would have 
been fatal to their equality. Communism brought a certain security to all 
who survived the diseases and accidents due to the poverty and ignorance 
of primitive society; but it did not lift them out of that poverty. In- 
dividualism brought wealth, but it brought, also, insecurity and slavery; 
it stimulated the latent powers of superior men, but it intensified the com- 
petition of life, and made men feel bitterly a poverty which, when all 
shared it alike, had seemed to oppress none.* 

Communism could survive more easily in societies where men were 
always on the move, and danger and want were ever present. Hunters 
and herders had no need of private property in land; but when agriculture 
became the settled life of men it soon appeared that the land was most 
fruitfully tilled when the rewards of careful husbandry accrued to the 
family that had provided it. Consequentlysince there is a natural selec- 
tion of institutions and ideas as well as of organisms and groups the 
passage from hunting to agriculture brought a change from tribal property 
to family property; the most economical unit of production became the 

* Perhaps one reason why communism tends to appear chiefly at the beginning of civili- 
zations is that it flourishes most readily in times of dearth, when the common danger of 
starvation fuses the individual into the group. When abundance comes, and the danger 
subsides, social cohesion is lessened, and individualism increases; communism ends where 
luxiiry begins. As the life of a society becomes more complex, and the division of labor 
differentiates men into diverse occupations and trades, it becomes more and more unlikely 
that all these services will be equally valuable to the group; inevitably those whose greater 
ability enables them to perform the more vital functions will take more than their equal 
share of the rising wealth of the group. Every growing civilization is a scene of multiply- 
ing inequalities; the natural differences of human endowment unite with differences of 
opportunity to produce artificial differences of wealth and power; and where no laws or 
despots suppress these artificial inequalities they reach at last a bursting point where the 
poor have nothing to lose by violence, and the chaos of revolution levels men again into a 
community of destitution. 

Hence the dream of communism lurks in every modern society as a racial memory of a 


unit of ownership. As the family took on more and more a patriarchal 
form, with authority centralized in the oldest male, property became 
increasingly individualized, and personal bequest arose. Frequently an 
enterprising individual would leave the family haven, adventure beyond 
the traditional boundaries, and by hard labor reclaim land from the forest, 
the jungle or the marsh; such land he guarded jealously as his own, and 
in the end society recognized his right, and another form of individual 
property began. 48 * As the pressure of population increased, and older 
lands were exhausted, such reclamation went on in a widening circle, until, 
in the more complex societies, individual ownership became the order of 
the day. The invention of money cooperated with these factors by facili- 
tating the accumulation, transport and transmission of property. The 
old tribal rights and traditions reasserted themselves in the technical owner- 
ship of the soil by the village community or the king, and in periodical 
redistributions of the land; but after an epoch of natural oscillation between 
the old and the new, private property established itself definitely as the 
basic economic institution of historical society. 

Agriculture, while generating civilization, led not only to private prop- 
erty but to slavery. In purely hunting communities slavery had been 
unknown; the hunter's wives and children sufficed to do the menial work. 
The men alternated between the excited activity of hunting or war, and 
the exhausted lassitude of satiety or peace. The characteristic laziness 
of primitive peoples had its origin, presumably, in this habit of slowly re- 
cuperating from the fatigue of battle or the chase; it was not so much 
laziness as rest. To transform this spasmodic activity into regular work 
two things were needed: the routine of tillage, and the organization of 

Such organization remains loose and spontaneous where men are work- 
ing for themselves; where they work for others, the organization of labor 

simpler and more equal life; and where inequality or insecurity rises beyond sufferance, 
men welcome a return to a condition which they idealize by recalling its equality and 
forgetting its poverty. Periodically the land gets itself redistributed, legally or not, 
whether by the Gracchi in Rome, the Jacobins in France, or the Communists in Russia; 
periodically wealth is redistributed, whether by the violent confiscation of property, or 
by confiscatory taxation of incomes and bequests. Then the race for wealth, goods and 
power begins again, and the pyramid of ability takes form once more; under whatever 
laws may be enacted the abler man manages somehow to get the richer soil, the better 
place, the lion's share; soon he is strong enough to dominate the state and rewrite or 
interpret the laws; and in time the inequality is as great as before. In this aspect all 
economic history is the slow heart-beat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole 
of naturally concentrating wealth and naturally explosive revolution. 



depends in the last analysis upon force. The rise of agriculture and the 
inequality of men led to the employment of the socially weak by the 
socially strong; not till then did it occur to the victor in war that the only 
good prisoner is a live one. Butchery and cannibalism lessened, slavery 
grew. 44 It was a great moral improvement when men ceased to kill or 
eat their fellowmen, and merely made them slaves. A similar develop- 
ment on a larger scale may be seen today, when a nation victorious in war 
no longer exterminates the enemy, but enslaves it with indemnities. Once 
slavery had been established and had proved profitable, it was extended 
by condemning to it defaulting debtors and obstinate criminals, and by 
raids undertaken specifically to capture slaves. War helped to make 
slavery, and slavery helped to make war. 

Probably it was through centuries of slavery that our race acquired 
its traditions and habits of toil. No one would do any hard or persistent 
work if he could avoid it without physical, economic or social penalty. 
Slavery became part of the discipline by which man was prepared for 
industry. Indirectly it furthered civilization, in so far as it increased 
wealth andfor a minority created leisure. After some centuries men 
took it for granted; Aristotle argued for slavery as natural and inevitable, 
and St. Paul gave his benediction to what must have seemed, by his time, 
a divinely ordained institution. 

Gradually, through agriculture and slavery, through the division of 
labor and the inherent diversity of men, the comparative equality of 
natural society was replaced by inequality and class divisions. "In the 
primitive group we find as a rule no distinction between slave and free, 
no serfdom, no caste, and little if any distinction between chief and 
followers." 45 Slowly the increasing complexity of tools and trades sub- 
jected the unskilled or weak to the skilled or strong; every invention was 
a new weapon in the hands of the strong, and further strengthened them 
in their mastery and use of the weak.* Inheritance added superior oppor- 
tunity to superior possessions, and stratified once homogeneous societies 
into a maze of classes and castes. Rich and poor became disruptively 
conscious of wealth and poverty; the class war began to run as a red 
thread through all history; and the state arose as an indispensable instru- 
ment for the regulation of classes, the protection of property, the waging 
of war, and the organization of peace. 

* So in our time that Mississippi of inventions which we call the Industrial Revolution 
has enormously intensified the natural inequality of men. 


The Political Elements of Civilization 


The unsocial instinct Primitive anarchism The clan and the 
tribe The king War 

MAN is not willingly a political animal. The human male associates 
with his fellows less by desire than by habit, imitation, and the 
compulsion of circumstance; he does not love society so much as he 
fears solitude. He combines with other men because isolation endangers 
him, and because there are many things that can be done better together 
than alone; in his heart he is a solitary individual, pitted heroically against^ 
the world. If the average man had had his way there would probably 
never have been any state. Even today he resents it, classes death with 
taxes, and yearns for that government which governs least. If he asks 
for many laws it is only because he is sure that his neighbor needs them; 
privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist, and thinks laws in his own 
case superfluous. 

In the simplest societies there is hardly any government. Primitive 
hunters tend to accept regulation only when they join the hunting pack 
and prepare for action. The Bushmen usually live in solitary families; 
the Pygmies of Africa and the simplest natives of Australia admit only 
temporarily of political organization, and then scatter away to their 
family groups; the Tasmanians had no chiefs, no laws, no regular govern- 
ment; the Veddahs of Ceylon formed small circles according to family 
relationship, but had no government; the Kubus of Sumatra "live without 
men in authority," every family governing itself; the Fuegians are seldom 
more than twelve together; the Tungus associate sparingly in groups of 
ten tents or so; the Australian "horde" is seldom larger than sixty souls. 1 
In such cases association and cooperation are for special purposes, like 
hunting; they do not rise to any permanent political order. 

The earliest form of continuous social organization was the clan a group 
of related families occupying a common tract of land, having the same 



totem, and governed by the same customs or laws. When a group of clans 
united under the same chief the tribe was formed, and became the second 
step on the way to the state. But this was a slow development; many 
groups had no chiefs at all/ and many more seem to have tolerated them 
only in time of war.* Instead of democracy being a wilted feather in the 
cap of our own age, it appears at its best in several primitive groups where 
such government as exists is merely the rule of the family-heads of the 
clan, and no arbitrary authority is allowed. 4 The Iroquois and Delaware 
Indians recognized no laws or restraints beyond the natural order of the 
family and the clan; their chiefs had modest powers, which might at any 
time be ended by the elders of the tribe. The Omaha Indians were ruled 
by a Council of Seven, who deliberated until they came to a unanimous 
agreement; add this to the famous League of the Iroquois, by which many 
tribes bound themselves and honored their pledge to keep the peace, 
and one sees no great gap between these "savages" and the modern states 
that bind themselves revocably to peace in the League of Nations. 

It is war that makes the chief, the king and the state, just as it is these 
that make war. In Samoa the chief had power during war, but at other 
times no one paid much attention to him. The Dyaks had no other 
government than that of each family by its head; in case of strife they 
chose their bravest warrior to lead them, and obeyed him strictly; but 
once the conflict was ended they literally sent him about his business. 8 
In the intervals of peace it was the priest, or head magician, who had most 
authority and influence; and when at last a permanent kingship developed 
as the usual mode of government among a majority of tribes, it combined 
and derived from the offices of warrior, father and priest. Societies arc 
ruled by two powers: in peace by the word, in crises by the sword; force 
is used only when indoctrination fails. Law and myth have gone hand in 
Hand throughout the centuries, cooperating or taking turns in the manage- 
ment of mankind; until our own day no state dared separate them, and 
perhaps tomorrow they will be united again. 

How did war lead to the state? It is not that men were naturally in- 
clined to war. Some lowly peoples are quite peaceful; and the Eskimos 
could not understand why Europeans of the same pacific faith should hunt 
one another like seals and steal one another's land. "How well it is" 
they apostrophized their soil "that you are covered with ice and snow! 
How well it is that if in your rocks there are gold and silver, for which 
the Christians are so greedy, it is covered with so much snow that they 


cannot get at it! Your unfruitfulness makes us happy, and saves us from 
molestation."' Nevertheless, primitive life was incarnadined with inter- 
mittent war. Hunters fought for 'happy hunting grounds still rich in 
prey, herders fought for new pastures for their flocks, tillers fought for 
virgin soil; all of them, at times, fought to avenge a murder, or to harden 
and discipline their youth, or to interrupt the monotony of life, or for 
simple plunder and rape; very rarely for religion. There were institutions 
and customs for the limitation of slaughter, as among ourselves certain 
hours, days, weeks or months during which no gentleman savage would 
kill; certain functionaries who were inviolable, certain roads neutralized, 
certain markets and asylums set aside for peace; and the League of the 
Iroquois maintained the "Great Peace" for three hundred years/ But 
for the most part war was the favorite instrument of natural selection 
among primitive nations and groups. 

Its results were endless. It acted as a ruthless eliminator of weak peoples, 
and raised the level of the race in courage, violence, cruelty, intelligence 
and skill. It stimulated invention, made weapons that became useful tools, 
and arts of war that became arts of peace. (How many railroads today 
begin in strategy and end in trade!) Above all, war dissolved primitive 
communism and anarchism, introduced organization and discipline, and 
led to the enslavement of prisoners, the subordination of classes, and the 
growth of government. Property was the mother, war was the father, 
of the state. * 


As the organization of forceThe village communityThe 
psychological aides of the state 

"A herd of blonde beasts of prey," says Nietzsche, "a race of con- 
querors and masters, which with all its warlike organization and all its 
organizing power pounces with its terrible claws upon a population, in 
numbers possibly tremendously superior, but as yet formless, . . . such 
is the origin of the state." 8 "The state as distinct from tribal organization," 
says Lester Ward, "begins with the conquest of one race by another."* 
"Everywhere," says Oppenheimer, "we find some warlike tribe breaking 
through the boundaries of some less warlike people, settling down as 
nobility, and founding its state." 10 "Violence," says Ratzenhofer, "is the 
agent which has created the state." 11 The state, says Gumplowicz, is 
the result of conquest, the establishment of the victors as a ruling caste 


over the vanquished." "The state," says Sumner, "is the product of 
force, and exists by force." 1 * 

This violent subjection is usually of a settled agricultural group by a 
tribe of hunters and herders. 14 For agriculture teaches men pacific ways, 
inures them to a prosaic routine, and exhausts them with the long day's 
toil; such men accumulate wealth, but they forget the arts and sentiments 
of war. The hunter and the herder, accustomed to danger and skilled 
in killing, look upon war as but another form of the chase, and hardly 
more perilous; when the woods cease to give them abundant game, or 
flocks decrease through a thinning pasture, they look with envy upon the 
ripe fields of the village, they invent with modern ease some plausible 
reason for attack, they invade, conquer, enslave and rule.* 

The state is a late development, and hardly appears before the time of 
written history. For it presupposes a change in the very principle of social 
organization from kinship to domination; and in primitive societies the 
former is the rule. Domination succeeds best where it binds diverse natural 
groups into an advantageous unity of order and trade. Even such conquest 
is seldom lasting except where the progress of invention has strengthened 
the strong by putting into their hands new tools and weapons for suppress- 
ing revolt. In permanent conquest the principle of domination tends to be- 
come concealed and almost unconscious; the French who rebelled in 1789 
hardly realized, until Camille Desmoulins reminded them, that the aris- 
tocracy that had ruled them for a thousand years had come from Germany 
and had subjugated them by force. Time sanctifies everything; even the 
most arrant theft, in the hands of the robber's grandchildren, becomes sacred 
and inviolable property. Every state begins in compulsion; but the habits 
of obedience become the content of conscience, and soon every citizen 
thrills with loyalty to the flag. 

The citizen is right; for however the state begins, it soon becomes an in- 
dispensable prop to order. As trade unites clans and tribes, relations spring 
up that depend not on kinship but on contiguity, and therefore require an 
artificial principle of regulation. The village community may serve as an 
example: it displaced tribe and clan as the mode of local organization, and 

It is a law that holds only for early societies, since under more complex conditions a 
variety of other factors greater wealth, better weapons, higher intelligencecontribute to 
determine the issue. So Egypt was conquered not only by Hyksos, Ethiopian, Arab and 
Turkish nomads, but also by the settled civilizations of Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome and 
England though not until these nations had become hunters and nomads on an imperial- 
istic scale. 


achieved a simple, almost democratic government of small areas through a 
concourse of family-heads; but the very existence and number of such com- 
munities created a need for some external force that could regulate their 
interrelations and weave them into a larger economic web. The state, ogre 
though it was in its origin, supplied this need; it became not merely an or- 
ganized force, but an instrument for adjusting the interests of the thousand 
conflicting groups that constitute a complex society. It spread the tentacles of 
its power and law over wider and wider areas, and though it made external 
war more destructive than before, it extended and maintained internal peace; 
the state may be defined as internal peace for external war. Men decided 
that it was better to pay taxes than to fight among themselves; better to pay 
tribute to one magnificent robber than to bribe them all. What an inter- 
regnum meant to a society accustomed to government may be judged from 
the behavior of the Baganda, among whom, when the king died, every man 
had to arm himself; for the lawless ran riot, killing and plundering every- 
where. 15 "Without autocratic rule," as Spencer said, "the evolution of so- 
ciety could not have commenced." 1 * 

A state which should rely upon force alone would soon fall, for though 
men are naturally gullible they are also naturally obstinate, and power, 
like taxes, succeeds best when it is invisible and indirect. Hence the state, 
in order to maintain itself, used and forged many instruments of in- 
doctrinationthe family, the church, the school to build in the soul of 
the citizen a habit of patriotic loyalty and pride. This saved a thousand 
policemen, and prepared the public mind for that docile coherence which 
is indispensable in war. Above all, the ruling minority sought more and 
more to transform its forcible mastery into a body of law which, while 
consolidating that mastery, would afford a welcome security and order 
to the people, and would recognize the rights of the "subject"* sufficiently 
to win his acceptance of the law and his adherence to the State. 

ra. LAW 

Larw-lessnessLaiv and custom Revenge FinesCourts Ordeal 
The duel Punishment Primitive freedom 

Law comes with property, marriage and government; the lowest societies 
manage to get along without it. "I have lived with communities of savages 
in South America and in the East," said Alfred Russel Wallace, "who 

* Note how this word betrays the origin of the state. 


have no law or law-courts but the public opinion of the village freely 
expressed. Each man scrupulously respects the rights of his fellows, and 
any infraction of those rights rarely or never takes place. In such a com- 
munity all are nearly equal." 17 Herman Melville writes similarly of the 
Marquesas Islanders: "During the time I have lived among the Typees 
no one was ever put upon his trial for any violence to the public. Every- 
thing went on in the valley with a harmony and smoothness unparalleled, 
I will venture to assert, in the most select, refined, and pious associations 1 
of mortals in Christendom." 11 The old Russian Government established 
courts of law in the Aleutian Islands, but in fifty years those courts found 
no employment. "Crime and offenses," reports Brinton, "were so infre- 
quent under the social system of the Iroquois that they can scarcely be 
said to have had a penal code." 1 * Such are the ideal perhaps the idealized 
conditions for whose return the anarchist perennially pines. 

Certain amendments must be made to these descriptions. Natural socie- 
ties arc comparatively free from law first because they are ruled by cus- 
toms as rigid and inviolable as any law; and secondly because crimes of 
violence, in the beginning, are considered to be private matters, and are left 
to bloody personal revenge. 

Underneath all the phenomena of society is the great terra firma of cus- 
tom, that bedrock of time-hallowed modes of thought and action which 
provides a society with some measure of steadiness and order through all 
absence, changes, and interruptions of law. Custom gives the same stability 
to the group that heredity and instinct give to the species, and habit to the 
individual. It is the routine that keeps men sane; for if there were no grooves 
along which thought and action might move with unconscious ease, the 
mind would be perpetually hesitant, and would soon take refuge in lunacy. 
A law of economy works in instinct and habit, in custom and convention: 
the most convenient mode of response to repeated stimuli or traditional sit- 
uations is automatic response. Thought and innovation are disturbances of 
regularity, and are tolerated only for indispensable readaptations, or 
promised gold. 

When to this natural basis of custom a supernatural sanction is added by 
religion, and the ways of one's ancestors are also the will of the gods, then 
custom becomes stronger than law, and subtracts substantially from primi- 
tive freedom. To violate law is to win the admiration of half the populace, 
who secretly envy anyone who can outwit this ancient enemy; to violate 
custom is to incur almost universal hostility. For custom rises out of the 
people, whereas law is forced upon them from above; law is usually a de- 


cree of the master, but custom is the natural selection of those modes of 
action that have been found most convenient in the experience of the group. 
Law partly replaces custom when the state replaces the natural order of the 
family, the clan, the tribe, and the village community; it more fully replaces 
custom when writing appears, and laws graduate from a code carried 
down in the memory of elders and priests into a system of legislation pro- 
claimed in written tables. But the replacement is never complete; in the! 
determination and judgment of human conduct custom remains to the endj 
the force behind the law, the power behind the throne, the last "magis-| 
trate of men's lives." 

The first stage in the evolution of law is personal revenge. "Vengeance 
is mine," says the primitive individual; "I will repay." Among the Indian 
tribes of Lower California every man was his own policeman, and admin- 
istered justice in the form of such vengeance as he was strong enough 
to take. So in many early societies the murder of A by B led to the 
murder of B by A's son or friend C, the murder of C by B's son or friend 
D, and so on perhaps to the end of the alphabet; we may find examples 
among the purest-blooded American families of today. This principle of 
revenge persists throughout the history of law: it appears in the Lex 
Talionis*or Law of Retaliation embodied in Roman Law; it plays a 
large role in the Code of Hammurabi, and in the "Mosaic" demand of 
"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"; and it lurks behind most legal 
punishments even in our day. 

The second step toward law and civilization in the treatment of crime 
was the substitution of damages for revenge. Very often the chief, to 
maintain internal harmony, used his power or influence to have the re- 
vengeful family content itself with gold or goods instead of blood. Soon 
a regular tariff arose, determining how much must be paid for an eye, 
a tooth, an arm, or a life; Hammurabi legislated extensively in such terms. 
The Abyssinians were so meticulous in this regard that when a boy fell 
from a tree upon his companion and killed him, the judges decided that* 
the bereaved mother should send another of her sons into the tree to 
fall upon the culprit's neck." The penalties assessed in cases of composi- 
tion might vary with the sex, age and rank of the offender and the injured; 
among the Fijians, for example, petty larceny by a common man was con- 
sidered a more heinous crime than murder by a chief.* 1 Throughout the 

A phrase apparently invented by Qcero. 


history of law the magnitude of the crime has been lessened by the magni- 
tude of the criminal.* Since these fines or compositions, paid to avert 
revenge, required some adjudication of offenses and damages, a third step 
towards law was taken by the formation of courts; the chief or the elders 
or the priests sat in judgment to settle the conflicts of their people. Such 
courts were not always judgment seats; often they were boards of volun- 
tary conciliation, which arranged some amicable settlement of the dis- 
pute, t For many centuries, and among many peoples, resort to courts 
remained optional; and where the offended party was dissatisfied with 
the judgment rendered, he was still free to seek personal revenge. 89 

In many cases disputes were settled by a public contest between the 
parties, varying in bloodiness from a harmless boxing-match as among the 
wise Eskimos to a duel to the death. Frequently the primitive mind re- 
sorted to an ordeal not so much on the medieval theory that a deity would 
reveal the culprit as in the hope that the ordeal, however unjust, would 
end a feud that might otherwise embroil the tribe for generations. Some- 
times accuser and accused were asked to choose between two bowls of 
food of which one was poisoned; the wrong party might be poisoned 
(usually not beyond redemption), but then the dispute was ended, since 
both parties ordinarily believed in the righteousness of the ordeal. Among 
some tribes it was the custom for a native who acknowledged his guilt 
to hold out his leg and permit the injured party to pierce it with a spear. 
Or the accused submitted to having spears thrown at him by his accusers; 
if they all missed him he was declared innocent; if he was hit, even by one, 
he was adjudged guilty, and the affair was closed." From such early 
forms the ordeal persisted through the laws of Moses and Hammurabi and 
down into the Middle Ages; the duel, which is one form of the ordeal, and 
which historians thought dead, is being revived in our own day. So brief 
and narrow, in some respects, is the span between primitive and modern 
man; so short is the history of civilization. 

The fourth advance in the growth of law was the assumption, by the 
chief or the state, of the obligation to prevent and punish wrongs. It is 
but a step from settling disputes and punishing offenses to making some 

* Perhaps an exception should be made in the case of the Brahmans, who, by the Code 
of Manu (VIII, 336-8), were called upon to bear greater punishments for the same crime 
than members of lower castes; but this regulation was well honored in the breach. 

tSome of our most modern cities are trying to revive this ancient time-saving institu- 


effort to prevent them. So the chief becomes not merely a judge but a 
lawgiver; and to the general body of "common law" derived from the 
customs of the group is added a body of "positive law," derived from the 
decrees of the government; in the one case the laws grow up, in the other 
they are handed down. In either case the laws carry with them the mark 
of their ancestry, and reek with the vengeance which they tried to replace. 
Primitive punishments are cruel, 114 because primitive society feels insecure; 
as social organization becomes more stable, punishments become less severe. 
In general the individual has fewer "rights" in natural society than 
under civilization. Everywhere man is born in chains: the chains of 
heredity, of environment, of custom, and of law. The primitive in- 
dividual moves always within a web of regulations incredibly stringent and 
detailed; a thousand tabus restrict his action, a thousand terrors limit his 
will. The natives of New Zealand were apparently without laws, but 
in actual fact rigid custom ruled every aspect of their lives. Unchangeable 
and unquestionable conventions determined the sitting and the rising, the 
standing and the walking, the eating, drinking and sleeping of the natives 
of Bengal. The individual was hardly recognized as a separate entity in 
natural society; what existed was the family and the clan, the tribe and 
the village community; it was these that owned land and exercised power. 
Only with the coming of private property, which gave him economic 
authority, and of the state, which gave him a legal status and defined 
rights, did the individual begin to stand out as a distinct reality." Rights? 
do not come to us from nature, which knows no rights except cunning 
and strength; they are privileges assured to individuals by the community 
as advantageous to the common good. Liberty is a luxury of security; 
the free individual is a product and a mark of civilization. 


Its function in civilizationThe clan vs. the family Growth of 
parental care Unimportance of the father Separation of the 
sexes Mother-right Status of woman Her occupa- 
tions Her economic achievements The patri- 
archateThe subjection of woman 

As the basic needs of man are hunger and love, so the fundamental func- 
tions of social organization are economic provision and biological main- 
tenance; a stream of children is as vital as a continuity of food. To insti- 


tutions which seek material welfare and political order, society always 
adds institutions for the perpetuation of the race. Until the state towards 
the dawn of the historic civilizations becomes the central and permanent 
source of social -order, the clan undertakes the delicate task of regulating 
the relations between the sexes and between the generations; and even 
after the state has been established, the essential government of mankind 
remains in that most deep-rooted of all historic institutions, the family. 

It is highly improbable that the first human beings lived in isolated fami- 
lies, even in the hunting stage; for the inferiority of man in physiological 
organs of defense would have left such families a prey to marauding beasts. 
Usually, in nature, those organisms that are poorly equipped for individual 
defense live in groups, and find in united action a means of survival in a 
world bristling with tusks and claws and impenetrable hides. Presumably it 
was so with man; he saved himself by solidarity in the hunting-pack and 
the clan. When economic relations and political mastery replaced kinship 
as the principle of social organization, the clan lost its position as die sub- 
structure of society; at the bottom it was supplanted by the family, at the 
top it was superseded by the state. Government took over the problem of 
maintaining order, while the family assumed the tasks of reorganizing indus- 
try and carrying on the race. 

Among the lower animals there is no care of progeny; consequently 
eggs are spawned in great number, and some survive and develop while 
the great majority are eaten or destroyed. Most fish lay a million eggs 
per year; a few species of fish show a modest solicitude for their offspring, 
and find half a hundred eggs per year sufficient for their purposes. Birds 
care better for their young, and hatch from five to twelve eggs yearly; 
mammals, whose very name suggests parental care, master the earth with 
an average of three young per female per year." Throughout the animal 
world fertility and destruction decrease as parental care increases; through- 
out the human world the birth rate and the death rate fall together as 
civilization rises. Better family care makes possible a longer adolescence, 
in which the young receive fuller training and 'development before they 
are flung upon their own resources; and the lowered birth rate releases 
human energy for other activities than reproduction. 

Since it was the mother who fulfilled most of the parental functions, 
the family was at first (so far as we can pierce the mists of history) organ- 
ized on the assumption that the position of the man in the family was 


superficial and incidental, while that of the woman was fundamental and 
supreme. In some existing tribes, and probably in the earliest human 
groups the physiological role of the male in reproduction appears to have 
escaped notice quite as completely as among animals, who rut and mate 
and breed with happy unconsciousness of cause and effect. The Trobriand 
Islanders attribute pregnancy not to any commerce of the sexes, but to 
the entrance of a baloma^ or ghost, into the woman. Usually the ghost 
enters while the woman is bathing; "a fish has bitten me," the girl reports. 
"When," says Malinowski, "I asked who was the father of an illegitimate 
child, there was only one answer that there was no father, since the girl 
was unmarried. If, then, I asked, in quite plain terms, who was the 
physiological father, the question was not understood. . . . The answer 
would be: 'It is a baloma who gave her this child.' " These islanders had 
a strange belief that the baloma would more readily enter a girl given to 
loose relations with men; nevertheless, in choosing precautions against 
pregnancy, the girls preferred to avoid bathing at high tide rather than to 
forego relations with men." 7 It is a delightful story, which must have 
proved a great convenience in the embarrassing aftermath of generosity; 
it would be still more delightful if it had been invented for anthropologists 
as well as for husbands. 

In Melanesia intercourse was recognized as the cause of pregnancy, but 
unmarried girls insisted on blaming some article in their diet." Even 
where the function of the male was understood, sex relationships were so 
irregular that it was never a simple matter to determine the father. Con- 
sequently the quite primitive mother seldom bothered to inquire into the 
paternity of her child; it belonged to her, and she belonged not to a hus 1 - 
band but to her father or her brother and the clan; it was with these 
that she remained, and these were the only male relatives whom her child 
would know." The bonds of affection between brother and sister were 
usually stronger than between husband and wife. The husband, in many 
cases, remained in the family and clan of his mother, and saw his wife 
only as a clandestine visitor. Even in classical civilization the brother was 
dearer than the husband: it was her brother, not her husband, that the 
wife of Intaphernes saved from the wrath of Darius; it was for her brother, 
not for her husband, that Antigone sacrificed herself. 80 "The notion that 
a man's wife is the nearest person in the world to him is a relatively modern 
notion, and one which is restricted to a comparatively small part of the 
human race." 81 


So slight is the relation between father and children in primitive society 
that in a great number of tribes the sexes live apart. In Australia and 
British New Guinea, in Africa and Micronesia, in Assam and Burma, 
among the Aleuts, Eskimos and Samoyeds, and here and there over the 
earth, tribes may still be found in which there is no visible family life; the 
men live apart from the women, and visit them only now and then; even 
the meals are taken separately. In northern Papua it is not considered 
right for a man to be seen associating socially with a woman, even if she 
is the mother of his children. In Tahiti "family life is quite unknown." 
Out of this segregation of the sexes come those secret fraternities usually 
of males which appear everywhere among primitive races, and serve most 
often as a refuge against women. 88 They resemble our modern fraternities 
in another point their hierarchical organization. 

The simplest form of the family, then, was the woman and her children, 
living with her mother or her brother in the clan; such an arrangement 
was a natural outgrowth of the animal family of the mother and her litter, 
and of the biological ignorance of primitive man. An alternative early 
form was "matrilocal marriage": the husband left his clan and went to live 
with the clan and family of his wife, laboring for her or with her in the 
service of her parents. Descent, in such cases, was traced through the 
female line, and inheritance was through the mother; sometimes even the 
kingship passed down through her rather than through the male. 88 This 
"mother-right" was not a "matriarchate" it did not imply the rule of 
women over men.* 4 Even when property was transmitted through the 
woman she had little power over it; she was used as a means of tracing 
relationships which, through primitive laxity or freedom, were otherwise 
obscure." It is true that in any system of society the woman exercises a 
certain authority, rising naturally out of her importance in the home, out 
of her function as the dispenser of food, and out of the need that the 
male has of her, and her power to refuse him. It is also true that there 
have been, occasionally, women rulers among some South African tribes; 
that in the Pelew Islands the chief did nothing of consequence without 
the advice of a council of elder women; that among the Iroquois the 
squaws had an equal right, with the men, of speaking and voting in the 
tribal council; 8 * and that among the Seneca Indians women held great 
power, even to the selection of the chief. But these are rare and exceptional 
cases. All in all the position of woman in early societies was one of sub- 
jection verging upon slavery. Her periodic disability, her unfamiliarity 


with weapons, the biological absorption of her strength in carrying, nurs- 
ing and rearing children, handicapped her in the war of the sexes, and 
doomed her to a subordinate status in all but the very lowest and the very 
highest societies. Nor was her position necessarily to rise with the develop- 
ment of civilization; it was destined to be lower in Periclean Greece than 
among the North American Indians; it was to rise and fall with her strategic 
importance rather than with the culture and morals of men. 

In the hunting stage she did almost all the work except the actual 
capture of the game. In return for exposing himself to the hardships and 
risks of the chase, the male rested magnificently for the greater part of 
the year. The woman bore her children abundantly, reared them, kept 
the hut or home in repair, gathered food in woods and fields, cooked, 
cleaned, and made the clothing and the boots." Because the men, when 
the tribe moved, had to be ready at any moment to fight off attack, they 
carried nothing but their weapons; the women carried all the rest. Bush- 
women were used as servants and beasts of burden; if they proved too 
weak to keep up with the march, tfiey were abandoned. 88 When the 
natives of the Lower Murray saw pack oxen they thought that these were 
the wives of the whites." The differences in strength which now divide 
the sexes hardly existed in those days, and are now environmental rather 
than innate: woman, apart from her biological disabilities, was almost the 
equal of man in stature, endurance, resourcefulness and courage; she was 
not yet an ornament, a thing of beauty, or a sexual toy; she was a robust 
animal, able to perform arduous work for long hours, and, if necessary, 
to fight to the death for her children or her clan. "Women," said a 
chieftain of the Chippewas, "are created for work. One of them can 
draw or carry as much as two men. They also pitch our tents, make our 
clothes, mend them, and keep us warm at night. . . . We absolutely cannot 
get along without them on a journey. They do everything and cost only 
a little; for since they must be forever cooking, they can be satisfied in 
lean times by licking their fingers." 40 

Most economic advances, in early society, were made by the woman 
rather than the man. While for centuries he clung to his ancient ways of 
hunting and herding, she developed agriculture near the camp, and those 
busy arts of the home which were to become the most important industries 
of later days. From the "wool-bearing tree," as the Greeks called the 
cotton plant, the primitive woman rolled thread and made cotton cloth." 
It was she, apparently, who developed sewing, weaving, basketry, pottery, 


woodworking, and building; and in many cases it was she who carried on 
primitive trade.** It was she who developed the home, slowly adding man 
to the list of her domesticated animals, and training him in those social 
dispositions and amenities which are the psychological basis and cement 
of civilization. 

But as agriculture became more complex and brought larger rewards, 
the stronger sex took more and more of it into its own hands. 4 * The 
growth of cattle-breeding gave the man a new source of wealth, stability 
and power; even agriculture, which must have seemed so prosaic to the 
mighty Nimrods of antiquity, was at last accepted by the wandering 
male, and the economic leadership which tillage had for a time given to 
women was wrested from them by the men. The application to agri- 
culture of those very animals that woman had first domesticated led to her 
replacement by the male in the control of the fields; the advance from the 
hoe to the plough put a premium upon physical strength, and enabled the 
man to assert his supremacy. The growth of transmissible property in 
cattle and in the products of the soil led to the sexual subordination of 
woman, for the male now demanded from her that fidelity which he 
thought would enable him to pass on his accumulations to children pre- 
sumably his own. Gradually the man had his way: fatherhood became 
recognized, and property began to descend through the male; mother- 
right yielded to father-right; and the patriarchal family, with the oldest 
male at its head, became the economic, legal, political and moral unit of 
i society. The gods, who had been mostly feminine, became great bearded 
[ patriarchs, with such harems as ambitious men dreamed of in their solitude. 
This passage to the patriarchal father-ruled family was fatal to the 
position of woman. In all essential aspects she and her children became 
the property first of her father or oldest brother, then of her husband. 
She was bought in marriage precisely as a slave was bought in the market. 
She was bequeathed as property when her husband died; and in some 
places (New Guinea, the New Hebrides, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, India, 
etc.) she was strangled and buried with her dead husband, or was expected 
to commit suicide, in order to attend upon him in the other world. 44 The 
father had now the right to treat, give, sell or lend his wives and daughters 
very much as he pleased, subject only to the social condemnation of other 
fathers exercising the same rights. While the male reserved the privilege 
of extending his sexual favors beyond his home, the woman under patri- 


archal institutionswas vowed to complete chastity before marriage, and 
complete fidelity after it. The double standard was born. 

The general subjection of woman which had existed in the hunting 
stage, and had persisted, in diminished form, through the period of mother- 
right, became now more pronounced and merciless than before. Im 
ancient Russia, on the marriage of a daughter, the father struck her 
gently with a whip, and then presented the whip to the bridegroom,* 6 as 
a sign that her beatings were now to come from a rejuvenated hand. Even 
the American Indians, among whom mother-right survived indefinitely, 
treated their women harshly, consigned to them all drudgery, and often 
called them dogs. 4 * Everywhere the life of a woman was considered 
cheaper than that of a man; and when girls were born there was none of 
the rejoicing that marked the coming of a male. Mothers sometimes 
destroyed their female children to keep them from misery. In Fiji wives 
might be sold at pleasure, and the usual price was a musket/ 7 Among 
some tribes man and wife did not sleep together, lest the breath of the 
woman should enfeeble the man; in Fiji it was not thought proper for a 
man to sleep regularly at home; in New Caledonia the wife slept in a shed, 
while the man slept in the house. In Fiji dogs were allowed in some of 
the temples, but women were excluded from all; 48 such exclusion of 
women from religious services survives in Islam to this day. Doubtless 
woman enjoyed at all times the mastery that comes of long-continued 
speech; the men might be rebuffed, harangued, evennow and then- 
beaten. 4 " But all in all the man was lord, the woman was servant. The 
Kaffir bought women like slaves, as a form of life-income insurance; when 
he had a sufficient number of wives he could rest for the remainder of his 
days; they would do all the work for him. Some tribes of ancient India 
reckoned the women of a family as part of the property inheritance, along 
with the domestic animals; 10 nor did the last commandment of Moses dis- 
tinguish very clearly in this matter. Throughout negro Africa women 
hardly differed from slaves, except that they were expected to provide 
sexual as well as economic satisfaction. Marriage began as a form of the 
law of property, as a part of the institution of slavery." 1 


The Moral Elements of Civilization 

SINCE no society can exist without order, and no order without regu- 
lation, we may take it as a rule of history that the power of custom 
varies inversely as the multiplicity of laws, much as the power of instinct 
varies inversely as the multiplicity of thoughts. Some rules are necessary 
for the game of life; they may differ in different groups, but within the 
group they must be essentially the same. These rules may be conven- 
tions, customs, morals, or laws. Conventions are forms of behavior found 
expedient by a people; customs are conventions accepted by successive 
generations, after natural selection through trial and error and elimination; 
morals are such customs as the group considers vital to its welfare and 
development. In primitive societies, where there is no written law, these 
vital customs or morals regulate every sphere of human existence, and 
give stability and continuity to the social order. Through the slow 
magic of time such customs, by long repetition, become a second nature 
in the individual; if he violates them he feels a certain fear, discomfort or 
shame; this is the origin of that conscience, or moral sense, which Darwin 
chose as the most impressive distinction between animals and men. 1 In 
its higher development conscience is social consciousness the feeling of 
the individual that he belongs to a group, and owes it some measure of 
loyalty and consideration. Morality is the cooperation of the part with 
the whole, and of each group with some larger whole. Civilization, of 
course, would be impossible without it. 


The meaning of marriage Its biological origins Sexual com- 
munism Trial marriage Group marriage Individual mar- 
riage Polygamy Its eugenic value Exogamy Mar- 
riage by service By capture By purchase Primi- 
tive love The economic function of marriage 

The first task of those customs that constitute the moral code of a group 
is to regulate the relations of the sexes, for these are a perennial source of 
discord, violence, and possible degeneration. The basic form of this 



sexual regulation is marriage, which may be defined as the association of 
mates for the care of offspring. It is a variable and fluctuating institution, 
which has passed through almost every conceivable form and experiment 
in the course of its history, from the primitive care of offspring without 
the association of mates to the modern association of mates without the 
care of offspring. 

Our animal forefathers invented it. Some birds seem to live as repro- 
ducing mates in a divorceless monogamy. Among gorillas and orang- 
utans the association of the parents continues to the end of the breeding 
season, and has many human features. Any approach to loose behavior 
on the part of the female is severely punished by the male.* The orangs 
of Borneo, says De Crespigny, "live in families: the male, the female, and 
a young one"; and Dr. Savage reports of the gorillas that "it is not unusual 
to see the 'old folks' sitting under a tree regaling themselves with fruit 
and friendly chat, while their children are leaping around them and swing- 
ing from branch to branch in boisterous merriment." 8 Marriage is older 
than man. 

Societies without marriage are rare, but the sedulous inquirer can find 
enough of them to form a respectable transition from the promiscuity of 
the lower mammals to the marriages of primitive men. In Futuna and 
Hawaii the majority of the people did not marry at all; 4 the Lubus mated 
freely and indiscriminately, and had no conception of marriage; certain 
tribes of Borneo lived in marriageless association, freer than the birds; and 
among some peoples of primitive Russia "the men utilized the women 
without distinction, so that no woman had her appointed husband." 
African pygmies have been described as having no marriage institutions, 
but as following "their animal instincts wholly without restraint." 5 This 
primitive "nationalization of women," corresponding to primitive com- 
munism in land and food, passed away at so early a stage that few traces 
of it remain* Some memory of it, however, lingered on in divers forms: 
in the feeling of many nature peoples that monogamywhich they would 
define as the monopoly of a woman by one man is unnatural and immoral; 9 
in periodic festivals of license (still surviving faintly in our Mardi Gras), 
when sexual restraints were temporarily abandoned; in the demand that 
a woman should give herself as at the Temple of Mylitta in Babylon to 
any man that solicited her, before she would be allowed to marry;* in 

* Cf . below, p. 245. 


the custom of wife-lending, so essential to many primitive codes of hos- 
pitality; and in the jus prim<e noctis, or right of the first night, by which, 
in early feudal Europe, the lord of the manor, perhaps representing the 
ancient rights of the tribe, occasionally deflowered the bride before the 
bridegroom was allowed to consummate the marriage."* 

A variety of tentative unions gradually took the place of indiscriminate 
relations. Among the Orang Sakai of Malacca a girl remained for a time 
with each man of the tribe, passing from one to another until she had 
made the rounds; then she began again. 7 Among the Yakuts of Siberia, 
the Botocudos of South Africa, the lower classes of Tibet, and many other 
peoples, marriage was quite experimental, and could be ended at the will 
of either party, with no reasons given or required. Among the Bushmen 
"any disagreement sufficed to end a union, and new connections could 
immediately be found for both." Among the Damaras, according to Sir 
Francis Galton, "the spouse was changed almost weekly, and I seldom 
knew without inquiry who the pro tempore husband of each lady was at 
aqy particular time." Among the Baila "women are bandied about from 
man to man, and of their own accord leave one husband for another. 
Young women scarcely out of their teens often have had four or five 
husbands, all still living." 8 The original word for marriage, in Hawaii, 
meant to try.* Among the Tahitians, a century ago, unions were free and 
dissoluble at will, so long as there were no children; if a child came the 
parents might destroy it without social reproach, or the couple might 
rear the child and enter into a more permanent relation; the man pledged 
his support to the woman in return for the burden of parental care that 
she now assumed. 10 

Marco Polo writes of a Central Asiatic tribe, inhabiting Peyn (now 
Keriya) in the thirteenth century: "If a married man goes to a distance 
from home to be absent twenty days, his wife has a right, if she is so 
inclined, to take another husband; and the men, on the same principle, 
marry wherever they happen to reside." 11 So old are the latest innovations 
in marriage and morals. 

Letourneau said of marriage that "every possible experiment compatible 
with the duration of savage or barbarian societies has been tried, or is still 
practised, amongst various races, without the least thought of the moral 
ideas generally prevailing in Europe."" In addition to experiments in perma- 
nence there were experiments in relationship. In a few cases we find "group 


marriage," by which a number of men belonging to one group married 
collectively a number of women belonging to another group. 18 In Tibet, for 
example, it was the custom for a group of brothers to marry a group of 
sisters, and for the two groups to practise sexual communism between them, 
each of the men cohabiting with each of the women. 14 Caesar reported a 
similar custom in ancient Britain. 18 Survivals of it appear in the "levirate," 
a custom existing among the early Jews and other ancient peoples, by which 
a man was obligated to marry his brother's widow; 10 this was the rule that so 
irked Onan. 

What was it that led men to replace the semi-promiscuity of primitive 
society with individual marriage? Since, in a great majority of nature 
peoples, there are few, if any, restraints on premarital relations, it is 
obvious that physical desire does not give rise to the institution of marriage. 
For marriage, with its restrictions and psychological irritations, could not 
possibly compete with sexual communism as a mode of satisfying the 
erotic propensities of men. Nor could the individual establishment offer 
at the outset any mode of rearing children that would be obviously 
superior to their rearing by the mother, her family, and the clan. Sonic 
powerful economic motives must have favored the evolution of marriage. 
In all probability (for again we must remind ourselves how little we really 
know of origins) these motives were connected with the rising institution 
of property. 

Individual marriage came through the desire of the male to have cheap 
slaves, and to avoid bequeathing his property to other men's children. 
Polygamy, or the marriage of one person to several mates, appears here 
and there in the form of polyandry the marriage of one woman to several 
men as among the Todas and some tribes of Tibet;" the custom may 
still be found where males outnumber females considerably. 18 But this 
custom soon falls prey to the conquering male, and polygamy has come to 
mean for us, usually, what would more strictly be called polygyny the 
possession of several wives by one man. Medieval theologians thought 
that Mohammed had invented polygamy, but it antedated Islam by some 
years, being the prevailing mode of marriage in the primitive world. 1 * 
Many causes conspired to make it general. In early society, because of 
hunting and war, the life of the male is more violent and dangerous, and 
the death rate of men is higher, than that of women. The consequent 
excess of women compels a choice between polygamy and the barren 


celibacy of a minority of women; but such celibacy is intolerable to peoples 
who require a high birth rate to make up for a high death rate, and who 
therefore scorn the mateless and childless woman. Again, men like variety; 
as the Negroes of Angola expressed it, they were "not able to eat always 
of the same dish." Also, men like youth in their mates, and women age 
rapidly in primitive communities. The women themselves often favored 
polygamy; it permitted them to nurse their children longer, and therefore 
to reduce the frequency of motherhood without interfering with the erotic 
and philoprogenitive inclinations of the male. Sometimes the first wife, 
burdened with toil, helped her husband to secure an additional wife, so 
that her burden might be shared, and additional children might raise the 
productive power and the wealth of the family. 80 Children were economic 
assets, and men invested in wives in order to draw children from them like 
interest. In the patriarchal system wives and children were in effect the 
slaves of the man; the more a man had of them, the richer he was. The 
poor man practised monogamy, but he looked upon it as a shameful condi- 
tion, from which some day he would rise to the respected position of a 
polygamous male." 

Doubtless polygamy was well adapted to the marital needs of a 
primitive society in which women outnumbered men. It had a eu- 
genic value superior to that of contemporary monogamy; for whereas 
in modern society the most able and prudent men marry latest and have 
least children, under polygamy the most able men, presumably, secured 
the best? mates and had most children. Hence polygamy has survived 
among practically all nature peoples, even among the majority of civil- 
ized mankind; only in our day has it begun to die in the Orient. Certain 
conditions, however, militated against it. The decrease in danger and vio- 
lence, consequent upon a settled agricultural life, brought the sexes towards 
an approximate numerical equality; and under these circumstances open 
polygamy, even in primitive societies, became the privilege of the pros- 
perous minority . M The mass of the people practised a monogamy tempered 
with adultery, while another minority, of willing or regretful celibates, 
balanced the polygamy of the rich. Jealousy in the male, and possessive- 
ness in the female, entered into the situation more effectively as the sexes 
approximated in number; for where the strong could not have a multiplic- 
ity of wives except by taking the actual or potential wives of other men. 
and by (in some cases) offending their own, polygamy became a difficult 


matter, which only the cleverest could manage. As property accumu- 
lated, and men were loath to scatter it in small bequests, it became desir- 
able to differentiate wives into "chief wife" and concubines, so that only 
the children of the former should share the legacy; this remained the status 
of marriage in Asia until our own generation. Gradually the chief wife 
became the only wife, the concubines became kept women in secret and 
apart, or they disappeared; and as Christianity entered upon the scene, 
monogamy, in Europe, took the place of polygamy as the lawful and out- 
ward form of sexual association. But monogamy, like letters and the state, 
is artificial, and belongs to the history, not to the origins, of civilization. 

Whatever form the union might take, marriage was obligatory among 
nearly all primitive peoples. The unmarried male had no standing in the 
community, or was considered only half a man. 83 Exogamy, too, was com- 
pulsory: that is to say, a man was expected to secure his wife from another 
clan than his own. Whether this custom arose because the primitive mind 
suspected the evil effects of close inbreeding, or because such intergroup 
marriages created or cemented useful political alliances, promoted social 
organization, and lessened the danger of war, or because the capture of a 
wife from another tribe had become a fashionable mark of male maturity, 
or because familiarity breeds contempt and distance lends enchantment to 
the view we do not know. In any case the restriction was well-nigh uni- 
versal in early society; and though it was successfully violated by the 
Pharaohs, the Ptolemies and the Incas, who all favored the marriage of 
brother and sister, it survived into Roman and modern law and consciously 
or unconsciously moulds our behavior to this day. 

How did the male secure his wife from another tribe? Where the matri- 
archal organization was strong he was often required to go and live with 
the clan of the girl whom he sought. As the patriarchal system developed, 
the suitor was allowed, after a term of service to the father, to take his 
bride back to his own clan; so Jacob served Laban for Leah and Rachel.* 4 
Sometimes the suitor shortened the matter with plain, blunt force. It was 
an advantage as well as a distinction to have stolen a wife; not only would 
she be a cheap slave, but new slaves could be begotten of her, and these 
children would chain her to her slavery. Such marriage by capture, though 
not the rule, occurred sporadically in the primitive world. Among the 
North American Indians the women were included in the spoils of war, 
and this happened so frequently that in some tribes the husbands and their 


wives spoke mutually unintelligible languages. The Slavs of Russia and 
Serbia practised occasional marriage by capture until the last century.** 
Vestiges of it remain in the custom of simulating the capture of the bride 
by the groom in certain wedding ceremonies." All in all it was a logical 
aspect of the almost incessant war of the tribes, and a logical starting-point 
for that eternal war of the sexes whose only truces are brief nocturnes 
and dreamless sleep. 

As wealth grew it became more convenient to offer the father a sub- 
stantial present or a sum of money for his daughter, rather than serve 
for her in an alien clan, or risk the violence and feuds that might come of 
marriage by capture. Consequently marriage by purchase and parental 
arrangement was the rule in early societies. 88 Transition forms occur; the 
Melanesians sometimes stole their wives, but made the theft legal by a 
later payment to her family. Among some natives of New Guinea the man 
abducted the girl, and then, while he and she were in hiding, commissioned 
his friends to bargain with her father over a purchase price.* The ease with 
which moral indignation in these matters might be financially appeased is 
illuminating. A Maori mother, wailing loudly, bitterly cursed the youth 
who had eloped with her daughter, until he presented her with a blanket. 
"That was all I wanted," she said; "I only wanted to get a blanket, and 
therefore made this noise." 80 Usually the bride cost more than a blanket: 
among the Hottentots her price was an ox or a cow; among the Croo three 
cows and a sheep; among the Kaffirs six to thirty head of cattle, depend- 
ing upon the rank of the girl's family; and among the Togos sixteen dollars 
cash and six dollars in goods. 31 

Marriage by purchase prevails throughout primitive Africa, and is still 
a normal institution in China and Japan; it flourished in ancient India and 
Judea, and in pre-Columbian Central America and Peru; instances of it occur 
in Europe today." It is a natural development of patriarchal institutions; 
the father owns the daughter, and may dispose of her, within broad limits, 
as he sees fit. The Orinoco Indians expressed the matter by saying that the 
suitor should pay the father for rearing the girl for his use." Sometimes 
the girl was exhibited to potential suitors in a bride-show; so among the 
Somalis the bride, richly caparisoned, was led about on horseback or on 

*Briffault thinks that marriage by capture was a transition from matrilocal to patri- 
archal marriage: the male, refusing to go and live with the tribe or family of his wife, 
forced her to come to his." 8 Lippert believed that exogamy arose as a peaceable substitute 
for capture; 15 * theft again graduated into trade. 


foot, in an atmosphere heavily perfumed to stir the suitors to a handsome 
price. 14 There is no record of women objecting to marriage by purchase; 
on the contrary, they took keen pride in the sums paid for them, and scorned 
the woman who gave herself in marriage without a price; 15 they believed that 
in a "love-match" the villainous male was getting too much for nothing. 18 
On the other hand, it was usual for the father to acknowledge the bride- 
groom's payment with a return gift which, as time went on, approximated 
more and more in value to the sum offered for the bride. 17 Rich fathers, 
anxious to smooth the way for their daughters, gradually enlarged these 
gifts until the institution of the dowry took form; and the purchase of the 
husband by the father replaced, or accompanied, the purchase of the wife 
by the suitor. 18 

In all these forms and varieties of marriage there is hardly a trace of 
romantic love. We find a few cases of love-marriages among the Papuans 
of New Guinea; among other primitive peoples we come upon instances 
of love (in the sense of mutual devotion rather than mutual need), but 
usually these attachments have nothing to do with marriage. In simple days 
men married for cheap labor, profitable parentage, and regular meals. "In 
Yariba," says Lander, "marriage is celebrated by the natives as uncon- 
cernedly as possible; a man thinks as little of taking a wife as of cutting an 
ear of corn affection is altogether out of the question." 89 Since premarital 
relations are abundant in primitive society, passion is not dammed up by 
denial, and seldom affects the choice of a wife. For the same reason the ab- 
sence of delay between desire and fulfilment no time is given for that 
brooding introversion of frustrated, and therefore idealizing, passion which 
is usually the source of youthful romantic love. Such love is reserved for 
developed civilizations, in which morals have raised barriers against desire, 
and the growth of wealth has enabled some men to afford, and some women 
to provide, the luxuries and delicacies of romance; primitive peoples are too 
poor to be romantic. One rarely finds love poetry in their songs. When 
the missionaries 'translated the Bible into the language of the Algonquins 
they could discover no native equivalent for the word love. The Hotten- 
tots are described as "cold and indifferent to one another" in marriage. 
On the Gold Coast "not even the appearance of affection exists between 
husband and wife"; and it is the same in primitive Australia. "I asked 
Baba," said Caillie, speaking of a Senegal Negro, "why he did not some- 
times make merry with his wives. He replied that if he did he should not 
be able to manage them." An Australian native, asked why he wished to 


marry, answered honestly that he wanted a wife to secure food, water and 
wood for him, and to carry his belongings on the march. 40 The kiss, which 
seems so indispensable to America, is quite unknown to primitive peoples, 
or known only to be scorned. 41 

In general the "savage" takes his sex philosophically, with hardly more 
of metaphysical or theological misgiving than the animal; he does not brood 
over it, or fly into a passion with it; it is as much a matter of course with 
him as his food. He makes no pretense to idealistic motives. Marriage is 
never a sacrament with him, and seldom an affair of lavish ceremony; it is 
frankly a commercial transaction. It never occurs to him to be ashamed 
that he subordinates emotional to practical considerations in choosing his 
mate; he would rather be ashamed of the opposite, and would demand 
of us, if he were as immodest as we are, some explanation of our custom of 
binding a man and a woman together almost for life because sexual desire 
has chained them for a moment with its lightning. The primitive male 
looked upon marriage in terms not of sexual license but of economic co- 
operation. He expected the woman and the woman expected herself to 
be not so much gracious and beautiful (though he appreciated these quali- 
ties in her) as useful and industrious; she was to be an economic asset rather 
than a total loss; otherwise the matter-of-fact "savage" would never have 
thought of marriage at all. Marriage was a profitable partnership, not a 
private debauch; it was a way whereby a man and a woman, working 
together, might be more prosperous than if each worked alone. Wherever, 
in the history of civilization, woman has ceased to be an economic asset 
in marriage, marriage has decayed; and sometimes civilization has decayed 
with it. 


Premarital relations Prostitution Chastity Virginity The 
double standardModesty The relativity of morals The 
biological role of modesty Adultery Divorce Abor- 
tion Infanticide Childhood The individual 

The greatest task of morals is always sexual regulation; for the repro- 
ductive instinct creates problems not only within marriage, but before and 
after it, and threatens at any moment to disturb social order with its per- 
sistence, its intensity, its scorn of law, and its perversions. The first prob- 
lem concerns premarital relations shall they be restricted, or free? Even 
among animals sex is not quite unrestrained; the rejection of the male by 


the female except in periods of rut reduces sex to a much more modest role 
in the animal world than it occupies in our own lecherous species. As 
Beaumarchais put it, man differs from the animal in eating without being 
hungry, drinking without being thirsty, and making love at all seasons. 
Among primitive peoples we find some analogue, or converse, of animal 
restrictions, in the tabu placed upon relations with a woman in her men- 
strual period. With this general exception premarital intercourse is left for 
the most part free in the simplest societies. Among the North American 
Indians the young men and women mated freely; and these relations were 
not held an impediment to marriage. Among the Papuans of New 
Guinea sex life began at an extremely early age, and premarital promiscu- 
ity was the rule. 43 Similar premarital liberty obtained among the Soyots of 
Siberia, the Igorots of the Philippines, the natives of Upper Burma, the 
Kaffirs and Bushmen of Africa, the tribes of the Niger and the Uganda, 
of New Georgia, the Murray Islands, the Andaman Islands, Tahiti, Poly- 
nesia, Assam, etc. 44 

Under such conditions we must not expect to find much prostitution 
in primitive society. The "oldest profession" is comparatively young; it 
arises only with civilization, with the appearance of property and the dis- 
appearance of premarital freedom. Here and there we find girls selling 
themselves for a while to raise a dowry, or to provide funds for the tem- 
ples; but this occurs only where the local moral code approves of it as a 
pious sacrifice to help thrifty parents or hungry gods. 4C 

Chastity is a correspondingly late development. What the primitive 
maiden dreaded was not the loss of virginity, but a reputation for sterility; 40 
premarital pregnancy was, more often than not, an aid rather than a handi- 
cap in finding a husband, for it settled all doubts of sterility, and prom- 
ised profitable children. The simpler tribes, before the coming of prop- 
erty, seem to have held virginity in contempt, as indicating unpopularity. 
The Kamchadal bridegroom who found his bride to be a virgin was much 
put out, and "roundly abused her mother for the negligent way in which 
she had brought up her daughter." 47 In many places virginity was consid- 
ered a barrier to marriage, because it laid upon the husband the unpleasant 
task of violating the tabu that forbade him to shed the blood of any mem- 
ber of his tribe. Sometimes girls offered themselves to a stranger in order 
to break this tabu against their marriage. In Tibet mothers anxiously sought 
men who would deflower their daughters; in Malabar the girls themselves 
begged the services of passers-by to the same end, "for while they were 


virgins they could not find a husband." In some tribes the bride was 
obliged to give herself to the wedding guests before going in to her hus- 
band; in others the bridegroom hired a man to end the virginity of his 
bride; among certain Philippine tribes a special official was appointed, at a 
high salary, to perform this function for prospective husbands.** 

What was it that changed virginity from a fault into a virtue, and made 
it an element in the moral codes of all the higher civilizations? Doubtless 
it was the institution of property. Premarital chastity came as an exten- 
sion, to the daughters, of the proprietary feeling with which the patri- 
archal male looked upon his wife. The valuation of virginity rose when, 
' under marriage by purchase, the virgin bride was found to bring a higher 
price than her weak sister; the virgin gave promise, by her past, of that 
marital fidelity which now seemed so precious to men beset by worry lest 
they should leave their property to surreptitious children. 49 

The men never thought of applying the same restrictions to themselves; 
no society in history has ever insisted on the premarital chastity of the 
male; no language has ever had a word for a virgin man. 60 The aura of 
virginity was kept exclusively for daughters, and pressed upon them in 
a thousands ways. The Tuaregs punished the irregularity of a daughter 
or a sister with death; the Negroes of Nubia, Abyssinia, Somaliland, etc., 
practised upon their daughters the cruel art of infibulation i.e., the attach- 
ment of a ring or lock to the genitals to prevent copulation; in Burma and 
Siam a similar practice survived to our own day. 61 Forms of seclusion arose 
by which girls were kept from providing or receiving temptation. In New 
Britain the richer parents confined their daughters, through five danger- 
ous years, in huts guarded by virtuous old crones; the girls were never 
allowed to come out, and only their relatives could see them. Some tribes 
in Borneo kept their unmarried girls in solitary confinement. 62 From these 
primitive customs to the purdah of the Moslems and the Hindus is but a 
step, and indicates again how nearly "civilization" touches "savagery." 

Modesty came with virginity and the patriarchate. There are many 
tribes which to this day show no shame in exposing the body; 88 " indeed, 
some are ashamed to wear clothing. All Africa rocked with laughter 
when Livingstone begged his black hosts to put on some clothing before 
the arrival of his wife. The Queen of the Balonda was quite naked when 
she held court for Livingstone." A small minority of tribes practise sex rela- 
tions publicly, without any thought of shame. 64 At first modesty is the 
feeling of the woman that she is tabu in her periods. When marriage 


by purchase takes form, and virginity in the daughter brings a profit to her 
father, seclusion and the compulsion to virginity beget in the girl a sense of 
obligation to chastity. Again, modesty is the feeling of the wife who, 
under purchase marriage, feels a financial obligation to her husband to re- 
frain from such external sexual relations as cannot bring him any recom- 
pense. Clothing appears at this point, if motives of adornment and pro- 
tection have not already engendered it; in many tribes women wore 
clothing only after marriage," as a sign of their exclusive possession by a 
husband, and as a deterrent to gallantry; primitive man did not agree with 
the author of Penguin Isle that clothing encouraged lechery. Chastity, 
however, bears no necessary relation to clothing; some travelers report that 
morals in Africa vary inversely as the amount of dress." It is clear that 
what men are ashamed of depends entirely upon the local tabus and cus- 
toms of their group. Until recently a Chinese woman was ashamed to 
show her foot, an Arab woman her face, a Tuareg woman her mouth; but 
the women of ancient Egypt, of nineteenth-century India and of twen- 
tieth-century Bali (before prurient tourists came) never thought of shame 
at the exposure of their breasts. 

We must not conclude that morals are worthless because they differ 
according to time and place, and that it would be wise to show our his- 
toric learning by at once discarding the moral customs of our group. A 
little anthropology is a dangerous thing. It is substantially true that as 
Anatole France ironically expressed the matter "morality is the sum of 
the prejudices of a community" ;" and that, as Anacharsis put it among the 
Greeks, if one were to bring together all customs considered sacred by 
some group, and were then to take away all customs considered immoral 
by some group, nothing would remain. But this does not prove the worth- 
lessness of morals; it only shows in what varied ways social order has been 
preserved. Social order is none the less necessary; the game must still have 
rules in order to be played; men must know what to expect of one another 
in the ordinary circumstances of life. Hence the unanimity with which 
the members of a society practise its moral code is quite as important as 
the contents of that code. Our heroic rejection of the customs and morals 
of our tribe, upon our adolescent discovery of their relativity, betrays the 
immaturity of our minds; given another decade and we begin to under- 
stand that there may be more wisdom in the moral code of the group 
the formulated experience of generations of the race than can be explained 
in a college course. Sooner or later the disturbing realization comes to us 


that even that which we cannot understand may be true. The institu- 
tions, conventions, customs and laws that make up the complex structure 
of a society are the work of a hundred centuries and a billion minds; 
and one mind must not expect to comprehend them in one lifetime, much 
less in twenty years. We are warranted in concluding that morals are 
relative, and indispensable. 

Since old and basic customs represent a natural selection of group 
ways after centuries of trial and error, we must expect to find some social 
utility, or survival value, in virginity and modesty, despite their historical 
relativity, their association with marriage by purchase, and their contribu- 
tions to neurosis. Modesty was a strategic retreat which enabled the girl, 
where she had any choice, to select her mate more deliberately, or compel 
him to show finer qualities before winning her; and the very obstructions 
it raised against desire generated those sentiments of romantic love which 
heightened her value in his eyes. The inculcation of virginity destroyed 
the naturalness and ease of primitive sexual life; but, by discouraging 
early sex development and premature motherhood, it lessened the gap 
which tends to widen disruptively as civilization develops between eco- 
nomic and sexual maturity. Probably it served in this way to strengthen 
the individual physically and mentally, to lengthen adolescence and train- 
ing, and so to lift the level of the race. 

As the institution of property developed, adultery graduated from a 
venial into a mortal sin. Half of the primitive peoples known to us attach no 
great importance to it. The rise of property not only led to the exaction 
of complete fidelity from the woman, but generated in the male a pro- 
prietary attitude towards her; even when he lent her to a guest it was 
because she belonged to him in body and soul. Suttee was the completion 
of this conception; the woman must go down into the master's grave along 
with his other belongings. Under the patriarchate adultery was classed 
with theft; 59 it was, so to speak, an infringement of patent. Punishment for 
it varied through all degrees of severity from the indifference of the simpler 
tribes to the disembowelment of adulteresses among certain California 
Indians. 60 After centuries of punishment the new virtue of wifely fidelity 
was firmly established, and had generated an appropriate conscience in the 
feminine heart. Many Indian tribes surprised their conquerors by the un- 
approachable virtue of their squaws; and certain male travelers have hoped 
that the women of Europe and America might some day equal in marital 
faithfulness the wives of the Zulus and the Papuans. 81 


It was easier for the Papuans, since among them, as among most primi- 
tive peoples, there were few impediments to the divorce of the woman by 
the man. Unions seldom lasted more than a few years among the Amer- 
ican Indians. "A large proportion of the old and middle-aged men," says 
Schoolcraft, "have had many different wives, and their children, scattered 
around the country, are unknown to them." 08 They "laugh at Europeans 
for having only one wife, and that for life; they consider that the Good 
Spirit formed them to be happy, and not to continue together unless 
their tempers and dispositions were congenial."" The Cherokees changed 
wives three or four times a year; the conservative Samoans kept them as 
long as three years. 64 With the coming of a settled agricultural life, 
unions became more permanent. Under the patriarchal system the man 
found it uneconomical to divorce a wife, for this meant, in effect, to lose 
a profitable slave." As the family became the productive unit of society, 
tilling the soil together, it prosperedother things equal according to its 
size and cohesion; it was found to some advantage that the union of the 
mates should continue until the last child was reared. By that time no 
energy remained for a new romance, and the lives of the parents had been 
forged into one by common work and trials. Only with the passage to 
urban industry, and the consequent reduction of the family in size and 
economic importance, has divorce become widespread again. 

In general, throughout history, men have wanted many children, and 
therefore have called motherhood sacred; while women, who know more 
about reproduction, have secretly rebelled against this heavy assignment, 
and have used an endless variety of means to reduce the burdens of ma- 
ternity. Primitive men do not usually care to restrict population; under 
normal conditions children are profitable, and the male regrets only that they 
cannot all be sons. It is the woman who invents abortion, infanticide and 
contraception for even the last occurs, sporadically, among primitive peo- 
ples." It is astonishing to find how similar are the motives of the "savage" 
to the "civilized" woman in preventing birth: to escape the burden of 
rearing offspring, to preserve a youthful figure, to avert the disgrace of 
extramarital motherhood, to avoid death, etc. The simplest means of re- 
ducing maternity was the refusal of the man by the woman during the 
period of nursing, which might be prolonged for many years. Sometimes, 
as among the Cheyenne Indians, the women developed the custom of 
refusing to bear a second child until the first was ten years old. In New 
Britain the women had no children till two or four years after marriage. 


The Guaycurus of Brazil were constantly diminishing because the women 
would bear no children till the age of thirty. Among the Papuans abortion 
was frequent; "children are burdensome," said the women; "we are weary 
of them; we go dead." Some Maori tribes used herbs or induced artificial 
malposition of the uterus, to prevent conception 67 

When abortion failed, infanticide remained. Most nature peoples per- 
mitted the killing of the newborn child if it was deformed, or diseased, 
or a bastard, or if its mother had died in giving it birth. As if any reason 
would be good in the task of limiting population to the available means of 
subsistence, many tribes killed infants whom they considered to have been 
born under unlucky circumstances: so the Bondei natives strangled all 
children who entered the world headfirst; the Kamchadals killed babes 
born in stormy weather; Madagascar tribes exposed, drowned, or buried 
alive children who made their debut in March or April, or on a Wednes- 
day or a Friday, or in the last week of the month. If a woman gave birth 
to twins it was, in some tribes, held proof of adultery, since no man could 
be the father of two children at the same time; and therefore one or both 
of the children suffered death. The practice of infanticide was particularly 
prevalent among nomads, who found children a problem on their long 
marches. The Bangerang tribe of Victoria killed half their children at 
birth; the Lenguas of the Paraguayan Chaco allowed only one child per 
family per seven years to survive; the Abipones achieved a French econ- 
omy in population by rearing a boy and a girl in each household, killing 
off other offspring as fast as they appeared. Where famine conditions 
existed or threatened, most tribes strangled the newborn, and some tribes 
ate them. Usually it was the girl that was most subject to infanticide; occa- 
sionally she was tortured to death with a view to inducing the soul to 
appear, in its next incarnation, in the form of a boy." Infanticide was prac- 
tised without cruelty and without remorse; for in the first moments after 
delivery, apparently, the mother felt no instinctive love for the child. 

Oijce the child had been permitted to live a few days, it was safe 
against infanticide; soon parental love was evoked by its helpless sim- 
plicity, and in most cases it was treated more affectionately by its primi- 
tive parents than the average child of the higher races. 6 * For lack of milk 
or soft food the mother nursed the child from two to four years, sometimes 
for twelve; 1 * one traveler describes a boy who had learned to smoke before 
he was weaned;" and often a youngster running about with other children 
would interrupt his play or his work to go and be nursed by his 


mother." The Negro mother at work carried her infant on her back, and 
sometimes fed it by slinging her breasts over her shoulder. 71 Primitive dis- 
cipline was indulgent but not ruinous; at an early age the child was left to 
face for itself the consequences of its stupidity, its insolence, or its pug- 
nacity; and learning went on apace. Filial, as well as parental, love was 
highly developed in natural society. 74 

Dangers and disease were frequent in primitive childhood, and mortal- 
ity was high. Youth was brief, for at an early age marital and martial re- 
sponsibility began, and soon the individual was lost in the heavy tasks of 
replenishing and defending the group. The women were consumed in car- 
ing for children, the men in providing for them. When the youngest child 
had been reared the parents were worn out; as little space remained for 
individual life at the end as at the beginning. Individualism, like liberty, 
is a luxury of civilization. Only with the dawn of history were a suffi- 
cient number of men and women freed from the burdens of hunger, 
reproduction and war to create the intangible values of leisure, culture 
and art. 


The nature of virtue and vice Greed Dishonesty Violence- 
Homicide Suicide The socialization of the individual 
Altruism Hospitality Manners Tribal limits of ?noral- 
ity Primitive vs. modern morals Religion and morals 

Part of the function of parentage is the transmission of a moral code.b 
For the child is more animal than human; it has humanity thrust upon itt 
day by day as it receives the moral and mental heritage of the race. Bio- 
logically it is badly equipped for civilization, since its instincts provide 
only for traditional and basic situations, and include impulses more adapted 
to the jungle than to the town. Every vice was once a virtue, necessary in 
the struggle for existence; it became a vice only when it survived the condi- 
tions that made it indispensable; a vice, therefore, is not an advanced form 
of behavior, but usually an atavistic throwback to ancient and superseded 
ways. It is one purpose of a moral code to adjust the unchanged or slowly 
changing impulses of human nature to the changing needs and circum- 
stances of social life. 

Greed, acquisitiveness, dishonesty, cruelty and violence were for so 
many generations useful to animals and men that not all our laws, our 


education, our morals and our religions can quite stamp them out; some 
of them, doubtless, have a certain survival value even today. The animal 
gorges himself because he does not know when he may find food again; 
this uncertainty is the origin of greed. The Yakuts have been known to 
eat forty pounds of meat in one day; and similar stories, only less heroic, 
are told of the Eskimos and the natives of Australia. 75 Economic security 
is too recent an achievement of civilization to have eliminated this natural 
greed; it still appears in the insatiable acquisitiveness whereby the fretful 
modern man or woman stores up gold, or other goods, that may in emer- 
gency be turned into food. Greed for drink is not as widespread as greed 
for food, for most human aggregations have centered around some water 
supply. Nevertheless, the drinking of intoxicants is almost universal; not 
so much because men are greedy as because they are cold and wish to be 
warmed, or unhappy and wish to forget or simply because the water 
available to them is not fit to drink. 

Dishonesty is not so ancient as greed, for hunger is older than property. 
The simplest "savages" seem to be the most honest. 70 "Their word is 
sacred," said Kolben of the Hottentots; they know "nothing of the cor- 
ruptness and faithless arts of Europe." 77 As international communica- 
tions improved, this naive honesty disappeared; Europe has taught the 
gentle art to the Hottentots. In general, dishonesty rises with civilization, 
because under civilization the stakes of diplomacy are larger, there are 
more things to be stolen, and education makes men clever. When prop- 
erty develops among primitive men, lying and stealing come in its train. 78 

Crimes of violence are as old as greed; the struggle for food, land and 
mates has in every generation fed the earth with blood, .and has offered 
a dark background for the fitful light of civilization. Primitive man was 
cruel because he had to be; life taught him that he must have an arm 
always ready to strike, and a heart apt for "natural killing." The blackest 
page in anthropology is the story of primitive torture, and of the joy that 
many primitive men and women seem to have taken in the infliction of 
pain. 7 * Much of this cruelty was associated with war; within the tribe 
manners were less ferocious, and primitive men treated one another and 
even their slaves with a quite civilized kindliness. 80 But since men had to 
kill vigorously in war, they learned to kill also in time of peace; for to 
many a primitive mind no argument is settled until one of the disputants 
is dead. Among many tribes murder, even of another member of the same 


clan, aroused far less horror than it used to do with us. The Fuegians pun- 
ished a murderer merely by exiling him until his fellows had forgotten 
his crime. The Kaffirs considered a murderer unclean, and required that 
he should blacken his face with charcoal; but after a while, if he washed 
himself, rinsed his mouth, and dyed himself brown, he was received into 
society again. The savages of Futuna, like our own, looked upon a mur- 
derer as a hero. 81 In several tribes no woman would marry a man who had 
not killed some one, in fair fight or foul; hence the practice of head- 
hunting, which survives in the Philippines today. The Dyak who brought 
back most heads from such a man-hunt had the choice of all the girls in 
his village; these were eager for his favors, feeling that through him they 
might become the mothers of brave and potent men.* 82 

Where food is dear life is cheap. Eskimo sons must kill their parents 
when these have become so old as to be helpless and useless; failure to 
kill them in such cases would be considered a breach of filial duty. 83 Even 
his own life seems cheap to primitive man, for he kills himself with a readi- 
ness rivaled only by the Japanese. If an offended person commits suicide, 
or mutilates himself, the offender must imitate him or become a pariah; 84 so 
old is hara-kiri. Any reason may suffice for suicide: some Indian women 
of North America killed themselves because their men had assumed the 
privilege of scolding them; and a young Trobriand Islander committed 
suicide because his wife had smoked all his tobacco. 85 

To transmute greed into thrift, violence into argument, murder into 
litigation, and suicide into philosophy has been part of the task of civili- 
zation. It was a great advance when the strong consented to eat the weak 
by due process of law. No society can survive if it allows its members to 
behave toward one another in the same way in which it encourages them 
to behave as a group toward other groups; internal cooperation is the first 
law of external competition. The struggle for existence is not ended by 
mutual aid, it is incorporated, or transferred to the group. Other things 
equal, the ability to compete with rival groups will be proportionate to 
the ability of the individual members and families to combine with one 
another. Hence every society inculcates a moral code, and builds up in the 
heart of the individual, as its secret allies and aides, social dispositions that 
mitigate the natural war of life; it encourages by calling them virtues 

* This is half the theme of Synge's drama, The Playboy of the Western World. 


those qualities or habits in the individual which redound to the advantage 
of the group, and discourages contrary qualities by calling them vices. 
In this way the individual is in some outward measure socialized, and the 
animal becomes a citizen. 

It was hardly more difficult to generate social sentiments in the soul of 
the "savage" than it is to raise them now in the heart of modern man. The 
struggle for life encouraged communalism, but the struggle for property 
intensifies individualism. Primitive man was perhaps readier than con- 
temporary man to cooperate with his fellows; social solidarity came more 
easily to him since he had more perils and interests in common with his 
group, and less possessions to separate him from the rest. 88 The natural man 
was violent and greedy; but he was also kindly and generous, ready to share 
even with strangers, and to make presents to his guests." 7 Every schoolboy 
knows that primitive hospitality, in many tribes, went to the extent of 
offering to the traveler the wife or daughter of the host." To decline such 
an offer was a serious offense, not only to the host but to the woman; these 
are among the perils faced by missionaries. Often the later treatment of the 
guest was determined by the manner in which he had acquitted himself of 
these responsibilities. 8 * Uncivilized man appears to have felt proprietary, but 
not sexual, jealousy; it did not disturb him that his wife had "known" men 
before marrying him, or now slept with his guest; but as her owner, rather 
than her lover, he would have been incensed to find her cohabiting with an- 
other man without his consent. Some African husbands lent their wives to 
strangers for a consideration. 80 

The rules of courtesy were as complex in most simple peoples as in ad- 
vanced nations.* 1 Each group had formal modes of salutation and farewell. 
Two individuals, on meeting, rubbed noses, or smelled each other, or gently 
bit each other;* 8 as we have seen, they never kissed. Some crude tribes were 
more polite than the modern average; the Dyak head-hunters, we are told, 
were "gentle and peaceful" in their home life, and the Indians of Central 
America considered the loud talking and brusque behavior of the white man 
as signs of poor breeding and a primitive culture.* 8 

Almost all groups agree in holding other groups to be inferior to them- 
selves. The American Indians looked upon themselves as the chosen people, 
specially created by the Great Spirit as an uplifting example for mankind. 
One Indian tribe called itself "The Only Men"; another called itself "Men 
of Men"; the Caribs said, "We alone are people." The Eskimos believed that 
the Europeans had come to Greenland to learn manners and virtues.* 4 
Consequently it seldom occurred to primitive man to extend to other tribes 
the moral restraints which he acknowledged in dealing with his own; he 


frankly conceived it to be the function of morals to give strength and co- 
herence to his group against other groups. Commandments and tabus ap- 
plied only to the people of his tribe; with others, except when they were his 
guests, he might go as far as he dared. 96 

Moral progress in history lies not so much in the improvement of the 
moral code as in the enlargement of the area within which it is applied. 
The morals of modern man are not unquestionably superior to those of 
primitive man, though the two groups of codes may differ considerably in 
content, practice and profession; but modern morals are, in normal times, 
extended though with decreasing intensity to a greater number of people 
than before.* As tribes were gathered up into those larger units called 
states, morality overflowed its tribal bounds; and as communication or a 
common danger united and assimilated states, morals seeped through fron- 
tiers, and some men began to apply their commandments to all Europeans, 
to all whites, at last to all men. Perhaps there have always been idealists 
who wished to love all men as their neighbors, and perhaps in every gen- 
eration they have been futile voices crying in a wilderness of nationalism 
and war. But probably the number even the relative number of such men 
has increased. There are no morals in diplomacy, and la politique ri*a pas 
(Fentrailles; but there are morals in international trade, merely because such 
trade cannot go on without some degree of restraint, regulation, and con- 
fidence. Trade began in piracy; it culminates in morality. 

Few societies have been content to rest their moral codes upon so 
frankly rational a basis as economic and political utility. For the individ- 
ual is not endowed by nature with any disposition to subordinate his per- 
sonal interests to those of the group, or to obey irksome regulations 
for which there are no visible means of enforcement. To provide, so 
to speak, an invisible watchman, to strengthen the social impulses against 
the individualistic by powerful hopes and fears, societies have not in- 
vented but made use of, religion. The ancient geographer Strabo expressed 
the most advanced views on this subject nineteen hundred years ago: 

For in dealing with a crowd of women, at least, or with any 
promiscuous mob, a philosopher cannot influence them by reason 
or exhort them to reverence, piety and faith; nay, there is need of 
religious fear also, and this cannot be aroused without myths and 
marvels. For thunderbolt, aegis, trident, torches, snakes, thyrsus- 

* However, the range within which the moral code is applied has narrowed since the 
Middle Ages, as the result of the rise of nationalism. 


lances-arms of the gods are myths, and so is the entire ancient 
theology. But the founders of states gave their sanction to these 
things as bugbears wherewith to scare the simple-minded. Now 
since this is the nature of mythology, and since it has come to have 
its place in the social and civil scheme of life as well as in the his- 
tory of actual facts, the ancients clung to their system of education 
for children and applied it up to the age of maturity; and by means 
of poetry they believed that they could satisfactorily discipline 
every period of life. But now, after a long time, the writing of 
history and the present-day philosophy have come to the front. 
Philosophy, however, is for the few, whereas poetry is more useful 
to the people at large. 08 

Morals, then, are soon endowed with religious sanctions, because mys- 
tery and supernaturalism lend a weight which can never attach to things 
empirically known and genetically understood; men are more easily ruled 
by imagination than by science. But was this moral utility the source or 
origin of religion? 


Primitive atheists 

If we define religion as the worship of supernatural forces, we must 
observe at the outset that some peoples have apparently no religion at all. 
Certain Pygmy tribes of Africa had no observable cult or rites; they had 
no totem, no fetishes, and no gods; they buried their dead without cere- 
mony, and seem to have paid no further attention to them; they lacked 
even superstitions, if we may believe otherwise incredible travelers. 9 " 8 The 
dwarfs of the Cameroon recognized only malevolent deities, and did noth- 
ing to placate them, on the ground that it was useless to try. The Ved- 
dahs of Ceylon went no further than to admit the possibility of gods and 
immortal souls; but they offered no prayers or sacrifices. Asked about 
God they answered, as puzzled as the latest philosopher: "Is he on a rock? 
On a white-ant hill? On a tree? I never saw a god! " WIb The North Amer- 
ican Indians conceived a god, but did not worship him; like Epicurus they 
thought him too remote to be concerned in their affairs. 980 An Abipone 
Indian rebuffed a metaphysical inquirer in a manner quite Confucian: "Our 
grandfathers and our great-grandfathers were wont to contemplate the 
earth alone, solicitous only to see whether the plain afford grass and water 


for their horses. They never troubled themselves about what went on in 
the heavens, and who was the creator and governor of the stars." The 
Eskimos, when asked who had made the heavens and the earth, always 
replied, "We do not know." f>fld A Zulu was asked: "When you see the sun 
rising and setting, and the trees growing, do you know who made them 
and governs them?" He answered, simply: "No, we see them, but cannot 
tell how they came; we suppose that they came by themselves." 988 

Such cases are exceptional, and the old belief that religion is universal 
is substantially correct. To the philosopher this is one of the outstanding 
facts of history and psychology; he is not content to know that all re- 
ligions contain much nonsense, but rather he is fascinated by the problem 
of the antiquity and persistence of belief. What are the sources of the 
indestructible piety of mankind? 

1. The Sources of Religion 
Fear Wonder Dreams The soul Animism 

Fear, as Lucretius said, was the first mother of the gods. Fear, above 
all, of death. Primitive life was beset with a thousand dangers, and seldom 
ended with natural decay; long before old age could come, violence or 
some strange disease carried off the great majority of men. Hence early 
man did not believe that death was ever natural; 07 he attributed it to the 
operation of supernatural agencies. In the mythology of the natives of 
New Britain death came to men by an error of the gods. The good god 
Kambinana told his foolish brother Korvouva, "Go down to men and 
tell them to cast their skins; so shall they avoid death. But tell the serpents 
that they must henceforth die." Korvouva mixed the messages; he delivered 
the secret of immortality to the snakes, and the doom of death to men. 98 
Many tribes thought that death was due to the shrinkage of the skin, and 
that man would be immortal if only he could moult. 88 

Fear of death, wonder at the causes of chance events or unintelligible 
happenings, hope for divine aid and gratitude for good fortune, cooper- 
ated to generate religious belief. Wonder and mystery adhered particularly 
to sex and dreams, and the mysterious influence of heavenly bodies upon 
the earth and man. Primitive man marveled at the phantoms that he 
saw in sleep, and was struck with terror when he beheld, in his dreams, 
the figures of those whom he knew to be dead. He buried his dead in the 


earth to prevent their return; he buried victuals and goods with the corpse 
lest it should come back to curse him; sometimes he left to the dead the 
house in which death had come, while he himself moved on to another 
shelter; in some places he carried the body out of the house not through 
a door but through a hole in the wall, and bore it rapidly three times 
around the dwelling, so that the spirit might forget the entrance and 
never haunt the home." 

Such experiences convinced early man that every living thing had a 
soul, or secret life, within it, which could be separated from the body 
in illness, sleep or death. "Let no one wake a man brusquely," said one 
of the Upanishads of ancient India, "for it is a matter difficult of cure if 
the soul find not its way back to him."" 1 Not man alone but all things had 
souls; the external world was not insensitive or dead, it was intensely 
alive; 101 if this were not so, thought primitive philosophy, nature would be 
full of inexplicable occurrences, like the motion of the sun, or the death- 
dealing lightning, or the whispering of the trees. The personal way of 
conceiving objects and events preceded the impersonal or abstract; religion 
preceded philosophy. Such animism is the poetry of religion, and the 
religion of poetry. We may see it at its lowest in the wonder-struck eyes 
of a dog that watches a paper blown before him by the wind, and perhaps 
believes that a spirit moves the paper from within; and we find the same 
feeling at its highest in the language of the poet. To the primitive mind 
and to the poet in all ages mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, stars, sun, moon 
and sky are sacramentally holy things, because they are the outward and 
visible signs of inward and invisible souls. To the early Greeks the sky 
was the god Ouranos, the moon was Selene, the earth was Gaea, the sea was 
Poseidon, and everywhere in the woods was Pan. To the ancient Germans 
the forest primeval was peopled with genii, elves, trolls, giants, dwarfs 
and fairies; these sylvan creatures survive in the music of Wagner and the 
poetic dramas of Ibsen. The simpler peasants of Ireland still believe in 
fairies, and no poet or playwright can belong to the Irish literary revival 
unless he employs them. There is wisdom as well as beauty in this animism; 
it is good and nourishing to treat all things as alive. To the sensitive spirit, 
says the most sensitive of contemporary writers, 

Nature begins to present herself as a vast congeries of separate 
living entities, some visible, some invisible, but all possessed of 


mind-stuff, all possessed of matter-stuff, and all blending mind and 
matter together in the basic mystery of being. . . . The world is full 
of gods! From every planet and from every stone there emanates 
a presence that disturbs us with a sense of the multitudinousness 
of god-like powers, strong and feeble, great and little, moving be- 
tween heaven and earth upon their secret purposes. 10 * 

2. The Objects of Religion 

The sunThe stars The earth Sex Animals Totemism The 
transition to human gods Ghost-worship Ancestor-worship 

Since all things have souls, or contain hidden gods, the objects of re- 
ligious worship are numberless. They fall into six classes: celestial, ter- 
restrial, sexual, animal, human, and divine. Of course we shall never know 
which of our universe of objects was worshiped first. One of the first was 
probably the moon. Just as our own folk-lore speaks of the "man in the 
moon," so primitive legend conceived the moon as a bold male who caused 
women to menstruate by seducing them. He was a favorite god with 
women, who worshiped him as their protecting deity. The pale orb was 
also the measure of time; it was believed to control the weather, and to 
make both rain and snow; even the frogs prayed to it for rain. 104 

We do not know when the sun replaced the moon as the lord of the 
sky in primitive religion. Perhaps it was when vegetation replaced hunt- 
ing, and the transit of the sun determined the seasons of sowing and reaping, 
and its heat was recognized as the main cause of the bounty of the soil. 
Then the earth became a goddess fertilized by the hot rays, and men wor- 
shiped the great orb as the father of all things living. 108 From this simple 
beginning sun-worship passed down into the pagan faiths of antiquity, 
and many a later god was only a personification of the sun. Anaxagoras 
was exiled by the learned Greeks because he ventured the guess that the 
sun was not a god, but merely a ball of fire, about the size of the Pelo- 
ponnesus. The Middle Ages kept a relic of sun-worship in the halo 
pictured around the heads of saints, 10 * and in our own day the Emperor of 
Japan is regarded by most of his people as an incarnation of the sun- 
god. 107 There is hardly any superstition so old but it can be found flourish- 
ing somewhere today. Civilization is the precarious labor and luxury of 
a minority; the basic masses of mankind hardly change from millennium 
to millennium. 


Like the sun and the moon, every star contained or was a god, and 
moved at the command of its indwelling spirit. Under Christianity these 
spirits became guiding angels, star-pilots, so to speak; and Kepler was not 
too scientific to believe in them. The sky itself was a great god, wor- 
shiped devotedly as giver and withholder of rain. Among many primitive 
peoples the word for god meant sky; among the Lubari and the Dinkas 
it meant rain. Among the Mongols the supreme god was Tengri the sky; 
in China it was Tz the sky; in Vedic India it was Dyaus pitarthe "father 
sky"; among the Greeks it was Zeus the sky, the "cloud-compeller"; 
among the Persians it was Ahura the "azure sky"; 108 and among ourselves 
men still ask "Heaven" to protect them. The central point in most primi- 
tive mythology is the fertile mating of earth and sky. 

For the earth, too, was a god, and every main aspect of it was presided 
over by some deity. Trees had souls quite as much as men, and it was 
plain murder to cut them down; the North American Indians sometimes 
attributed their defeat and decay to the fact that the whites had leveled 
the trees whose spirits had protected the Red Men. In the Molucca Islands 
blossoming trees were treated as pregnant; no noise, fire, or other disturb- 
ance was permitted to mar their peace; else, like a frightened woman, they 
might drop their fruit before time. In Amboyna no loud sounds were 
allowed near the rice in bloom lest it should abort into straw. 109 The 
ancient Gauls worshiped the trees of certain sacred forests; and the Druid 
priests of England reverenced as holy that mistletoe of the oak which still 
suggests a pleasant ritual. The veneration of trees, springs, rivers and 
mountains is the oldest traceable religion of Asia. 110 Many mountains were 
holy places, homes of thundering gods. Earthquakes were the shoulder- 
shrugging of irked or irate deities: the Fijians ascribed such agitations to 
the earth-god's turning over in his sleep; and the Samoans, when the soil 
trembled, gnawed the ground and prayed to the god Mafuie to stop, lest 
he should shake the planet to pieces. 111 Almost everywhere the earth was 
the Great Mother; our language, which is often the precipitate of primi- 
tive or unconscious beliefs, suggests to this day a kinship between matter 
(materia) and mother (mater). Ishtar and Cybele, Demeter and Ceres, 
Aphrodite and Venus and Freya these are comparatively late forms of 
the ancient goddesses of the earth, whose fertility constituted the bounty 
of the fields; their birth and marriage, their death and triumphant resurrec- 
tion were conceived as the symbols or causes of the sprouting, the decay, 


and the vernal renewal of all vegetation. These deities reveal by their 
gender the primitive association of agriculture with woman. When agri- 
culture became the dominant mode of human life, the vegetation goddesses 
reigned supreme. Most early gods were of the gentler sex; they were 
superseded by male deities presumably as a heavenly reflex of the vic- 
torious patriarchal family ."" 

Just as the profound poetry of the primitive mind sees a secret divinity 
in the growth of a tree, so it sees a supernatural agency in the conception 
or birth of a child. The "savage" does not know anything about the ovum 
or the sperm; he sees only the external structures involved, and deifies them; 
they, too, have spirits in them, and must be worshiped, for are not these 
mysteriously creative powers the most marvelous of all? In them, even 
more than in the soil, the miracle of fertility and growth appears; there- 
fore they must be the most direct embodiments of the divine potency. 
Nearly all ancient peoples worshiped sex in some form and ritual, and not 
the lowest people but the highest expressed their worship most com- 
pletely; we shall find such worship in Egypt and India, Babylonia and 
Assyria, Greece and Rome. The sexual character and functions of primi- 
tive deities were held in high regard, 114 not through any obscenity of mind, 
but through a passion for fertility in women and in the earth. Certain 
animals, like the bull and the snake, were worshiped as apparently possess- 
ing or symbolizing in a high degree the divine power of reproduction. 
The snake in the story of Eden is doubtless a phallic symbol, representing 
sex as the origin of evil, suggesting sexual awakening as the beginning of 
the knowledge of good and evil, and perhaps insinuating a certain pro- 
verbial connection between mental innocence and bliss.* 

There is hardly an animal in nature, from the Egyptian scarab to the j 
Hindu elephant, that has not somewhere been worshiped as a god. The j 
Ojibwa Indians gave the name of totein to their special sacred animal, to 
the clan that worshiped it, and to any member of the clan; and this con- 
fused word has stumbled into anthropology as totemism, denoting vaguely 
any worship of a particular object usually an animal or a plant as 
especially sacred to a group. Varieties of totemism have been found 
scattered over apparently unconnected regions of the earth, from the 
Indian tribes of North America to the natives of Africa, the Dravidians 

* Cf . Chap, xii, vi below. 


of India, and the tribes of Australia/ 1 * The totem as a religious object 
helped to unify the tribe, whose members thought themselves bound up 
with it or descended from it; the Iroquois, in semi-Darwinian fashion, 
believed that they were sprung from the primeval mating of women with 
bears, wolves and deer. The totem as object or as symbol became a 
useful sign of relationship and distinction for primitive peoples, and lapsed, 
in the course of secularization, into a mascot or emblem, like the lion or 
eagle of nations, the elk or moose of our fraternal orders, and those dumb 
animals that are used to represent the elephantine immobility and mulish 
obstreperousness of our political parties. The dove, the fish and the lamb, 
in the symbolism of nascent Christianity, were relics of totemic adoration; 
even the lowly pig was once a totem of prehistoric Jews. 116 In most cases 
the totem animal was tabu i.e., forbidden, not to be touched; under cer- 
tain circumstances it might be eaten, but only as a religious act, amounting 
to the ritual eating of the god.* The Gallas of Abyssinia ate in solemn 
ceremony the fish that they worshiped, and said, "We feel the spirit 
moving within us as we eat." The good missionaries who preached the 
Gospel to the Gallas were shocked to find among these simple folk a ritual 
so strangely similar to the central ceremony of the Mass. 111 

Probably fear was the origin of totemism, as of so many cults; men 
prayed to animals because the animals were powerful, and had to be 
appeased. As hunting cleared the woods of the beasts, and gave way to 
the comparative security of agricultural life, the worship of animals de- 
clined, though it never quite disappeared; and the ferocity of the first 
human gods was probably carried over from the animal deities whom 
they replaced. The transition is visible in those famous stories of meta- 
morphoses, or changes of form, that are found in the Ovids of all languages, 
and tell how gods had been, or had become, animals. Later the animal 
qualities adhered to them obstinately, as the odor of the stable might loyally 
attend some rural Casanova; even in the complex mind of Homer glaucopis 
Athene had the eyes of an owl, and Here boopis had the eyes of a cow. 
Egyptian and Babylonian gods or ogres with the face of a human being 

* Freud, with characteristic imaginativeness, believes that the totem was a transfigured 
symbol of the father, revered and hated for his omnipotence, and rebelliously murdered 
and eaten by his sons. m Durkheim thought that the totem was a symbol of the clan, 
revered and hated (hence held "sacred" and "unclean") by the individual for its omnipo- 
tence and irksome dictatorship; and that the religious attitude was originally the feeling 
of the individual toward the authoritarian group. 1 " 


and the body of a beast reveal the same transition and make the same 
confessionthat many human gods were once animal deities. 1 * 

Most human gods, however, seem to have been, in the beginning, merely 
idealized dead men. The appearance of the dead in dreams was enough to 
establish the worship of the dead, for worship, if not the child, is at least 
the brother, of fear. Men who had been powerful during life, and there- 
fore had been feared, were especially likely to be worshiped after their 
death. 1 * 1 Among several primitive peoples the word for god actually meant 
"a dead man"; even today the English word spirit and the German word 
Geist mean both ghost and soul. The Greeks invoked their dead precisely 
as the Christians were to invoke the saints. 183 So strong was the belief- 
first generated in dreams in the continued life of the dead, that primitive 
men sometimes sent messages to them in the most literal way; in one tribe 
the chief, to convey such a letter, recited it verbally to a slave, and then 
cut off his head for special delivery; if the chief forgot something he sent 
another decapitated slave as a postscript. 133 

Gradually the cult of the ghost became the worship of ancestors. All 
the dead were feared, and had to be propitiated, lest they should curse and 
blight the lives of the living. This ancestor-worship was so well adapted 
to promote social authority and continuity, conservatism and order, that 
it soon spread to every region of the earth. It flourished in Egypt, Greece 
and Rome, and survives vigorously in China and Japan today; many peoples 
worship ancestors but no god. 124 * The institution held the family power- 
fully together despite the hostility of successive generations, and provided 
an invisible structure for many early societies. And just as compulsion 
grew into conscience, so fear graduated into love; the ritual of ancestor- 
worship, probably generated by terror, later aroused the sentiment of awe, 
and finally developed piety and devotion. It is the tendency of gods to 
begin as ogres and to end as loving fathers; the idol passes into an ideal 
as the growing security, peacefulness and moral sense of the worshipers 
pacify and transform the features of their once ferocious deities. The slow 
progress of civilization is reflected in the tardy amiability of the gods. 

The idea of a human god was a late step in a long development; it was 
slowly differentiated, through many stages, out of the conception of an 
ocean or multitude of spirits and ghosts surrounding and inhabiting every- 

* Relics of ancestor-worship may be found among ourselves in our care and visitation 
of graves, and our masses and prayers for the dead. 


thing. From the fear and worship of vague and formless spirits men seem 
to have passed to adoration of celestial, vegetative and sexual powers, then 
to reverence for animals, and worship of ancestors. The notion of God 
as Father was probably derived from ancestor-worship; it meant originally 
that men had been physically begotten by the gods. 1 * In primitive theology 
there is no sharp or generic distinction between gods and men; to the 
early Greeks, for example, their gods were ancestors, and their ancestors 
were gods. A further development came when, out of the medley of 
ancestors, certain men and women who had been especially distinguished 
were singled out for clearer deification; so the greater kings became gods, 
sometimes even before their death. But with this development we reach 
the historic civilizations. 

3. The Methods of Religion 

MagicVegetation rites Festivals of licenseMyths of the 

resurrected god Magic and superstition Magic and 

science Priests 

Having conceived a world of spirits, whose nature and intent were 
unknown to him, primitive man sought to propitiate them and to enlist 
them in his aid. Hence to animism, which is the essence of primitive re- 
ligion, was added magic, which is the soul of primitive ritual. The Poly- 
nesians recognized a very ocean of magic power, which they called mana; 
the magician, they thought, merely tapped this infinite supply of miraculous 
capacity. The methods by which the spirits, and later the gods, were sub- 
orned to human purposes were for the most part "sympathetic magic" a 
desired action was suggested to the deities by a partial or imitative perform- 
ance of the action by men. To make rain fall some primitive magicians 
poured water out upon the ground, preferably from a tree. The Kaffirs, 
threatened by drought, asked a missionary to go into the fields with an 
opened umbrella." 8 In Sumatra a barren woman made an image of a child 
and held it in her lap, hoping thereby to become pregnant. In the Babar 
Archipelago the would-be mother fashioned a doll out of red cotton, pre- 
tended to suckle it, and repeated a magic formula; then she sent word through 
the village that she was pregnant, and her friends came to congratulate her; 
only a very obstinate reality could refuse to emulate this imagination. 
Among the Dyaks of Borneo the magician, to ease the pains of a woman 
about to deliver, would go through the contortions of childbirth himself, 


as a magic suggestion to the foetus to come forth; sometimes the magician 
slowly rolled a stone down his belly and dropped it to the ground, in the 
hope that the backward child would imitate it. In the Middle Ages a 
spell was cast upon an enemy by sticking pins into a waxen image of 
hirti; m the Peruvian Indians burned people in effigy, and called it burning 
the soul." 8 Even the modern mob is not above such primitive magic. 

These methods of suggestion by example were applied especially to the 
fertilization of the soil. Zulu medicine-men fried the genitals of a man 
who had died in full vigor, ground the mixture into a powder, and strewed 
it over the fields." 9 Some peoples chose a King and Queen of the May, 
or a Whitsun bridegroom and bride, and married them publicly, so that 
the soil might take heed and flower forth. In certain localities the rite 
included the public consummation of the marriage, so that Nature, though 
she might be nothing but a dull clod, would have no excuse for misunder- 
standing her duty. In Java the peasants and their wives, to ensure the 
fertility of the rice-fields, mated in the midst of them. 130 For primitive 
men did not conceive the growth of the soil in terms of nitrogen; they 
thought of it apparently without knowing of sex in plants in the same 
terms as those whereby they interpreted the fruitfulness of woman; our 
very terms recall their poetic faith. 

Festivals of promiscuity, coming in nearly all cases at the season of 
sowing, served partly as a moratorium on morals (recalling the compara- 
tive freedom of sex relations in earlier days), partly as a means of fertilizing 
the wives of sterile men, and partly as a ceremony of suggestion to the 
earth in spring to abandon her wintry reserve, accept the proffered seed, 
and prepare to deliver herself of a generous litter of food. Such festivals 
appear among a great number of nature peoples, but particularly among 
the Cameroons of the Congo, the Kaffirs, the Hottentots and the Bantus. 
"Their harvest festivals," says the Reverend H. Rowley of the Bantus, 

are akin in character to the feasts of Bacchus. ... It is impossible 
to witness them without being ashamed. . . . Not only is full sexual 
license permitted to the neophytes, and indeed in most cases en- 
joined, but any visitor attending the festival is encouraged to indulge 
in licentiousness. Prostitution is freely indulged in, and adultery 
is not viewed with any sense of heinousness, on account of the 
surroundings. No man attending the festival is allowed to have 
intercourse with his wife. m 


Similar festivals appear in the historic civilizations: in the Bacchic cele- 
brations of Greece, the Saturnalia of Rome, the Fete des Fous in medieval 
France, May Day in England, and the Carnival or Mardi Gras of con- 
temporary ways. 

Here and there, as among the Pawnees and the Indians of Guayaquil, 
vegetation rites took on a less attractive form. A man or, in later and 
milder days, an animal was sacrificed to the earth at sowing time, so that 
it might be fertilized by his blood. When the harvest came it was inter- 
preted as the resurrection of the dead man; the victim was given, before 
and after his death, the honors of a god; and from this origin arose, in a 
thousand forms, the almost universal myth of a god dying for his people, 
and then returning triumphantly to life." 1 Poetry embroidered magic, 
and transformed it into theology. Solar myths mingled harmoniously with 
vegetation rites, and the legend of a god dying and reborn came to apply 
not only to the winter death and spring revival of the earth but to the 
autumnal and vernal equinoxes, and the waning and waxing of the day. 
For the coming of night was merely a part of this tragic drama; daily the 
sun-god was born and died; every sunset was a crucifixion, and every 
sunrise was a resurrection. 

Human sacrifice, of which we have here but one of many varieties, 
seems to have been honored at some time or another by almost every 
people. On the island of Carolina in the Gulf of Mexico a great hollow 
metal statue of an old Mexican deity has been found, within which still 
lay the remains of human beings apparently burned to death as an offering 
to the god. 188 Every one knows of the Moloch to whom the Phoenicians, 
the Carthaginians, and occasionally other Semites, offered human victims. 
In our own time the custom has been practised in Rhodesia. 184 Probably it 
was bound up with cannibalism; men thought that the gods had tastes like 
their own. As religious beliefs change more slowly than other creeds, and 
rites change more slowly than beliefs, this divine cannibalism survived after 
human cannibalism disappeared. 13 * Slowly, however, evolving morals 
changed even religious rites; the gods imitated the increasing gentleness of 
their worshipers, and resigned themselves to accepting animal instead of 
human meat; a hind took the place of Iphigenia, and a ram was substituted 
for Abraham's son. In time the gods did not receive even the animal; the 
priests liked savory food, ate all the edible parts of the sacrificial victim 
themselves, and offered upon the altar only the entrails and the bones. 18 * 


Since early man believed that he acquired the powers of whatever 
organism he consumed, he came naturally to the conception of eating the 
god. In many cases he ate the flesh and drank the blood of the human god 
whom he had deified and fattened for the sacrifice. When, through in- 
creased continuity in the food-supply, he became more humane, he sub- 
stituted images for the victim, and was content to eat these. In ancient 
Mexico an image of the god was made of grain, seeds and vegetables, was 
kneaded with the blood of boys sacrificed for the purpose, and was then 
consumed as a religious ceremony of eating the god. Similar ceremonies 
have been found in many primitive tribes. Usually the participant was 
required to fast before eating the sacred image; and the priest turned 
the image into the god by the power of magic f ormulas. 187 

Magic begins in superstition, and ends in science. A wilderness of weird 
beliefs came out of animism, and resulted in many strange formulas and 
rites. The Kukis encouraged themselves in war by the notion that all the 
enemies they slew would attend them as slaves in the after life. On the 
other hand a Bantu, when he had slain his foe, shaved his own head and 
anointed himself with goat-dung, to prevent the spirit of the dead man 
from returning to pester him. Almost all primitive peoples believed in the 
efficacy of curses, and the dcstructiveness of the "evil eye." 138 Australian 
natives were sure that the curse of a potent magician could kill at a hundred 
miles. The belief in witchcraft began early in human history, and has 
never quite disappeared. Fetishism* the worship of idols or other objects 
as having magic power is still more ancient and indestructible. Since 
many amulets are limited to a special power, some peoples are heavily 
laden with a variety of them, so that they may be ready for any emerg- 
ency. 180 Relics are a later and contemporary example of fetishes possessing 
magic powers; half the population of Europe wear some pendant or amulet 
which gives them supernatural protection or aid. At every step the history 
of civilization teaches us how slight and superficial a structure civilization 
is, and how precariously it is poised upon the apex of a never-extinct 
volcano of poor and oppressed barbarism, superstition and ignorance. 
Modernity is a cap superimposed upon the Middle Ages, which always 

The philosopher accepts gracefully this human need of supernatural 

From the Portuguese feitico, fabricated or factitious. 


aid and comfort, and consoles himself by observing that just as animism 
generates poetry, so magic begets drama and science. Frazer has shown, 
with the exaggeration natural to a brilliant innovator, that the glories of 
science have their roots in the absurdities of magic. For since magic often 
failed, it became of advantage to the magician to discover natural opera- 
tions by which he might help supernatural forces to produce the desired 
event. Slowly the natural means came to predominate, even though the 
magician, to preserve his standing with the people, concealed these natural 
means as well as he could, and gave the credit to supernatural magic- 
much as our own people often credit natural cures to magical prescriptions 
and pills. In this way magic gave birth to the physician, the chemist, the 
metallurgist, and the astronomer. 140 

More immediately, however, magic made the priest. Gradually, as 
religious rites became more numerous and complex, they outgrew the 
knowledge and competence of the ordinary man, and generated a special 
class which gave most of its time to the functions and ceremonies of re- 
ligion. The priest as magician had access, through trance, inspiration or 
esoteric prayer, to the will of the spirits or gods, and could change that 
will for human purposes. Since such knowledge and skill seemed to primi- 
tive men the most valuable of all, and supernatural forces were conceived 
to affect man's fate at every turn, the power of the clergy became as 
great as that of the state; and from the latest societies to modern times the 
priest has vied and alternated with the warrior in dominating and dis- 
ciplining men. Let Egypt, Judea and medieval Europe suffice as instances. 

The priest did not create religion, he merely used it, as a statesman uses 
the impulses and customs of mankind; religion arises not out of sacerdotal 
invention or chicanery, but out of the persistent wonder, fear, insecurity, 
hopefulness and loneliness of men. The priest did harm by tolerating 
superstition and monopolizing certain forms of knowledge; but he limited 
and often discouraged superstition, he gave the people the rudiments of 
education, he acted as a repository and vehicle for the growing cultural 
heritage of the race, he consoled the weak in their inevitable exploitation 
by the strong, and he became the agent through which religion nourished 
art and propped up with supernatural aid the precarious structure of 
human morality. If he had not existed the people would have invented him. 


4. The Moral Function of Religion 

Religion and government TabuSexual tabus The lag of 
religion Secularization 

Religion supports morality by two means chiefly: myth and tabu, Myth 
creates the supernatural creed through which celestial sanctions may be 
given to forms of conduct socially (or sacerdotally) desirable; heavenly 
hopes and terrors inspire the individual to put up with restraints placed 
upon him by his masters and his group. Man is not naturally obedient, 
gentle, or chaste; and next to that ancient compulsion which finally gen- 
erates conscience, nothing so quietly and continuously conduces to these 
uncongenial virtues as the fear of the gods. The institutions of property 
and marriage rest in some measure upon religious sanctions, and tend to 
lose their vigor in ages of unbelief. Government itself, which is the most 
unnatural and necessary of social mechanisms, has usually required the 
support of piety and the priest, as clever heretics like Napoleon and 
Mussolini soon discovered; and hence "a tendency to theocracy is inci- 
dental to all constitutions." 141 The power of the primitive chief is increased 
by the aid of magic and sorcery; and even our own government derives 
some sanctity from its annual recognition of the Pilgrims' God. 

The Polynesians gave the word tabu to prohibitions sanctioned by re- 
ligion. In the more highly developed of primitive societies such tabus 
took the place of what under civilization became laws. Their form was 
usually negative: certain acts and objects were declared "sacred" or "un- 
clean"; and the two words meant in effect one warning: untouchable. So 
the Ark of the Covenant was tabu, and Uzzah was struck dead, we arc 
told, for touching it to save it from falling. 112 Diodorus would have us 
believe that the ancient Egyptians ate one another in famine, rather than 
violate the tabu against eating the animal totem of the tribe. 143 In most 
primitive societies countless things were tabu; certain words and names 
were never to be pronounced, and certain days and seasons were tabu in 
the sense that work was forbidden at such times. All the knowledge, and 
some of the ignorance, of primitive men about food were expressed in 
dietetic tabus; and hygiene was inculcated by religion rather than by 
science or secular medicine. 

The favorite object of primitive tabu was woman. A thousand super- 


stitions made her, every now and then, untouchable, perilous, and "un- 
clean." The moulders of the world's myths were unsuccessful husbands, 
for they agreed that woman was the root of all evil; this was a view 
sacred not only to Hebraic and Christian tradition, but to a hundred pagan 
mythologies. The strictest of primitive tabus was laid upon the men- 
struating woman; any man or thing that touched her at such times lost 
virtue or usefulness. 1 " The Macusi of British Guiana forbade women to 
bathe at their periods lest they should poison the waters; and they forbade 
them to go into the forests on these occasions, lest they be bitten by 
enamored snakes. 146 Even childbirth was unclean, and after it the mother 
was to purify herself with laborious religious rites. Sexual relations, in 
most primitive peoples, were tabu not only in the menstrual period but 
whenever the woman was pregnant or nursing. Probably these prohibi- 
tions were originated by women themselves, out of their own good sense 
and for their own protection and convenience; but origins are easily 
forgotten, and soon woman found herself "impure" and "unclean." In 
the end she accepted man's point of view, and felt shame in her periods, 
even in her pregnancy. Out of such tabus as a partial source came modesty, 
.the sense of sin, the view of sex as unclean, asceticism, priestly celibacy, 
and the subjection of woman. 

Religion is not the basis of morals, but an aid to them; conceivably they 
could exist without it, and not infrequently they have progressed against 
its indifference or its obstinate resistance. In the earliest societies, and in 
some later ones, morals appear at times to be quite independent of religion; 
religion then concerns itself not with the ethics of conduct but with magic, 
ritual and sacrifice, and the good man is defined in terms of ceremonies 
dutifully performed and faithfully financed. As a rule religion sanctions 
not any absolute good (since there is none), but those norms of conduct 
which have established themselves by force of economic and social cir- 
cumstance; like law it looks to the past for its judgments, and is apt to be 
left behind as conditions change and morals alter with them. So the Greeks 
learned to abhor incest while their mythologies still honored incestuous 
gods; the Christians practised monogamy while their Bible legalized polyg- 
amy; slavery was abolished while dominies sanctified it with unimpeach- 
able Biblical authority; and in our own day the Church fights heroically 
for a moral code that the Industrial Revolution has obviously doomed. 
In the end terrestrial forces prevail; morals slowly adjust themselves to 


economic invention, and religion reluctantly adjusts itself to moral change.* 
The moral function of religion is to conserve established values, rather 
than to create new ones. 

Hence a certain tension between religion and society marks the higher 
stages of every civilization. Religion begins by offering magical aid to 
harassed and bewildered men; it culminates by giving to a people that unity 
of morals and belief which seems so favorable to statesmanship and art; 
it ends by fighting suicidally in the lost cause of the past. For as knowledge 
grows or alters continually, it clashes with mythology and theology, which 
change with geological leisureliness. Priestly control of arts and letters is 
then felt as a galling shackle or hateful barrier, and intellectual history 
takes on the character of a "conflict between science and religion." In- 
stitutions which were at first in the hands of the clergy, like law and 
punishment, education and morals, marriage and divorce, tend to escape 
from ecclesiastical control, and become secular, perhaps profane. The 
intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and after some hesita- 
tionthe moral code allied with it; literature and philosophy become anti- 
clerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of 
reason, and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and 
every idea. Conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into 
epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden 
alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end a society and 
its religion tend to fall together, like body and soul, in a harmonious death. 
Meanwhile among the oppressed another myth arises, gives new form to 
human hope, new courage to human effort, and after centuries of chaos 
builds another civilization. 

* Cf. the contemporary causation of birth control by urban industrialism, and the 
gradual acceptance of such control by the Church. 


The Mental Elements of Civilization 


Language Its animal background Its human origins Its devel- 
opmentIts results Education Initiation Writing Poetry 

IN the beginning was the word, for with it man became man. Without 
those strange noises called common nouns, thought was limited to in- 
dividual objects or experiences sensorily for the most part visually re- 
membered or conceived; presumably it could not think of classes as distinct 
from individual things, nor of qualities as distinct from objects, nor of 
objects as distinct from their qualities. Without words as class names one 
might think of this man, or that man, or that man; one could not think of 
Man, for the eye sees not Man but only men, not classes but particular 
things. The beginning of humanity came when some freak or crank, half 
animal and half man, squatted in a cave or in a tree, cracking his brain 
to invent the first Qommon noun, the first sound-sign that would signify 
a group of like objects: house that would mean all houses, man that would 
mean all men, light that would mean every light that ever shone on land 
or sea. From that moment the mental development of the race opened 
upon a new and endless road. For words are to thought what tools are to 
work; the product depends largely on the growth of the tools. 1 

Since all origins are guesses, and de fontibus non disputandum, the 
imagination has free play in picturing the beginnings of speech. Perhaps 
the first form of language which may be defined as communication 
through signs was the love-call of one animal to another. In this sense 
the jungle, the woods and the prairie are alive with speech. Cries of warn- 
ing or of terror, the call of the mother to the brood, the cluck and cackle 
of euphoric or reproductive ecstasy, the parliament of chatter from tree 
to tree, indicate the busy preparations made by the animal kingdom for 
the august speech of man. A wild girl found living among the animals 
in a forest near Chalons, France, had no other speech than hideous screeches 
and howls. These living noises of the woods seem meaningless to our 

7 2 


provincial ear; we are like the philosophical poodle Riquet, who says of 
M. Bergeret: "Everything uttered by my voice means something; but 
from my master's mouth comes much nonsense." Whitman and Craig 
discovered a strange correlation between the actions and the exclamations 
of pigeons; Dupont learned to distinguish twelve specific sounds used by 
fowl and doves, fifteen by dogs, and twenty-two by horned cattle; Garner 
found that the apes carried on their endless gossip with at least twenty 
different sounds, plus a repertory of gestures; and from these modest 
vocabularies a few steps bring us to the three hundred words that suffice 
some unpretentious men. 1 

Gesture seems primary, speech secondary, in the earlier transmission 
of thought; and when speech fails, gesture comes again to the fore. Among 
the North American Indians, who had countless dialects, married couples 
were often derived from different tribes, and maintained communication 
and accord by gestures rather than speech; one couple known to Lewis 
Morgan used silent signs for three years. Gesture was so prominent irt 
some Indian languages that the Arapahos, like some modern peoples, 
could hardly converse in the dark. 8 Perhaps the first human words were 
interjections, expressions of emotion as among animals; then demonstrative 
words accompanying gestures of direction; and imitative sounds that came 
in time to be the names of the objects or actions that they simulated. 
Even after indefinite millenniums of linguistic changes and complications 
every language still contains hundreds of imitative words roar, rush, 
murmur, tremor, giggle, groan, hiss, heave, hum, cackle, etc.* The Tecuna 
tribe, of ancient Brazil, had a perfect verb for sneeze: haitschu.' Out of 
such beginnings, perhaps, came the root-words of every language. Renan 
reduced all Hebrew words to five hundred roots, and Skeat nearly all 
European words to some four hundred stems.! 

* Such onomatopoeia still remains a refuge in linguistic emergencies. The Englishman 
eating his first meal in China, and wishing to know the character of the meat he was eat- 
ing, inquired, with Anglo-Saxon dignity and reserve, "Quack, quack?" To which the 
Chinaman, shaking his head, answered cheerfully, "Bow-wow." 4 

tE.g., divine is from Latin divus, which is from deus, Greek theos, Sanskrit deva, 
meaning god; in the Gypsy tongue the word for god, by a strange prank, becomes devel. 
Historically goes back to the Sanskrit root vid, to know; Greek oida, Latin video (see), 
French voir (sec), German ivissen (know), English to wit; plus the suffixes tor (as in 
author, praetor , rhetor), ic, al, and ly (=like). Again, the Sanskrit root or, to plough, 
gives the Latin arare, Russian orati, English to ear the land, arable^ art, oar, and perhaps 
the word Aryan the ploughers.* 


The languages of nature peoples are not necessarily primitive in any sense 
of simplicity; many of them are simple in vocabulary and structure, but 
some of them are as complex and wordy as our own, and more highly or- 
ganized than Chinese. 7 Nearly all primitive tongues, however, limit them- 
selves to the sensual and particular, and arc uniformly poor in general or 
abstract terms. So the Australian natives had a name for a dog's tail, and an- 
other name for a cow's tail; but they had no name for tail in general.* The 
Tasmanians had separate names for specific trees, but no general name for 
tree; the Choctaw Indians had names for the black oak, the white oak and the 
red oak, but no name for oak, much less for tree. Doubtless many gen- 
erations passed before the proper noun ended in the common noun. In 
many tribes there are no separate words for the color as distinct from the 
colored object; no words for such abstractions as tone, sex, species, space, 
spirit, instinct, reason, quantity, hope, fear, matter, consciousness, etc.* 
Such abstract terms seem to grow in a reciprocal relation of cause and 
effect with the development of thought; they become the tools of subtlety 
and the symbols of civilization. 

Bearing so many gifts to men, words seemed to them a divine boon and 
a sacred thing; they became the matter of magic formulas, most reverenced 
when most meaningless; and they still survive as sacred in mysteries where, 
e.g., the Word becomes Flesh. They made not only for clearer thinking, 
but for better social organization; they cemented the generations mentally, 
by providing a better medium for education and the transmission of knowl- 
edge and the arts; they created a new organ of communication, by which one 
doctrine or belief could mold a people into homogeneous unity. They opened 
new roads for the transport and traffic of ideas, and immensely accelerated 
the tempo, and enlarged the range and content, of life. Has any other in- 
vention ever equaled, in power and glory, the common noun? 

Next to the enlargement of thought the greatest of these gifts of speech 
was education. Civilization is an accumulation, a treasure-house of arts 
and wisdom, manners and morals, from which the individual, in his devel- 
opment, draws nourishment for his mental life; without that periodical 
reacquisition of the racial heritage by each generation, civilization would 
die a sudden death. It owes its life to education. 

Education had few frills among primitive peoples; to them, as to the 
animals, education was chiefly the transmission of skills and the training of 
character; it was a wholesome relation of apprentice to master in the ways 
of life. This direct and practical tutelage encouraged a rapid growth in the 


primitive child. In the Omaha tribes the boy of ten had already learned 
nearly all the arts of his father, and was ready for life; among the Aleuts 
the boy of ten often set up his own establishment, and sometimes took a 
wife; in Nigeria children of six or eight would leave the parental house, 
build a hut, and provide for themselves by hunting and fishing. 10 Usually this 
educational process came to an end with the beginning of sexual life; the 
precocious maturity was followed by an early stagnation. The boy, under 
such conditions, was adult at twelve and old at twenty-five. 11 This docs not 
mean that the "savage" had the mind of a child; it only means that he had 
neither the needs nor the opportunities of the modern child; he did not 
enjoy that long and protected adolescence which allows a more nearly com- 
plete transmission of the cultural heritage, and a greater variety and flexibility 
of adaptive reactions to an artificial and unstable environment. 

The environment of the natural man was comparatively permanent; it 
called not for mental agility but for courage and character. The primitive 
father put his trust in character, as modern education has put its trust in 
intellect; he was concerned to make not scholars but men. Hence the initia- 
tion rites which, among nature peoples, ordinarily marked the arrival of the 
youth at maturity and membership in the tribe, were designed to test cour- 
age rather than knowledge; their function was to prepare the young for the 
hardships of war and the responsibilities of marriage, while at the same time 
they indulged the old in the delights of inflicting pain. Some of these initia- 
tion tests are "too terrible and too revolting to be seen or told."" Among 
the Kaffirs (to take a mild example) the boys who were candidates for ma- 
turity were given arduous work by day, and were prevented from sleeping 
by night, until they dropped from exhaustion; and to make the matter 
more certain they were scourged "frequently and mercilessly until blood 
spurted from them." A considerable proportion of the boys died as a re- 
sult; but this seems to have been looked upon philosophically by the elders, 
perhaps as an auxiliary anticipation of natural selection." Usually these 
initiation ceremonies marked the end of adolescence and the preparation for 
marriage; and the bride insisted that the bridegroom should prove his 
capacity for suffering. In many tribes of the Congo the initiation rite 
centered about circumcision; if the youth winced or cried aloud his relatives 
were thrashed, and his promised bride, who had watched the ceremony care- 
fully, rejected him scornfully, on the ground that she did not want a girl 
for her husband. 14 

Little or no use was made of writing in primitive education. Nothing 
surprises the natural man so much as the ability of Europeans to com- 
municate with one another, over great distances, by making black scratches 


upon a piece of paper." Many tribes have learned to write by imitating 
their civilized exploiters; but some, as in northern Africa, have remained 
letterless despite five thousand years of intermittent contact with literate 
nations. Simple tribes living for the most part in comparative isolation, 
and knowing the happiness of having no history, felt little need for writing. 
Their memories were all the stronger for having no written aids; they 
learned and retained, and passed on to their children by recitation, what- 
ever seemed necessary in the way of historical record and cultural trans- 
mission. It was probably by committing such oral traditions and folk-lore 
to writing that literature began. Doubtless the invention of writing was 
met with a long and holy opposition, as something calculated to undermine 
morals and the race. An Egyptian legend relates that when the god Thoth 
revealed his discovery of the art of writing to King Thamos, the good 
King denounced it as an enemy of civilization. "Children and young 
people," protested the monarch, "who had hitherto been forced to apply 
themselves diligently to learn and retain whatever was taught them, would 
cease to apply themselves, and would neglect to exercise their memories." 1 " 
Of course we can only guess at the origins of this wonderful toy. Per- 
haps, as we shall sec, it was a by-product of pottery, and began as identify- 
ing "trade-marks" on vessels of clay. Probably a system of written signs 
was made necessary by the increase of trade among the tribes, and its first 
forms were rough and conventional pictures of commercial objects and 
accounts. As trade connected tribes of diverse languages, some mutually 
intelligible mode of record and communication became desirable. Pre- 
sumably the numerals were among the earliest written symbols, usually 
taking the form of parallel marks representing the fingers; we still call 
them fingers when we speak of them as digits. Such words as five, the 
German fiinf and the Greek pente go back to a root meaning hand;" so 
the Roman numerals indicated fingers, "V" represented an expanded 
hand, and "X" was merely two "V's" connected at their points. Writing 
was in its beginnings as it still is in China and Japan a form of drawing, 
an art. As men used gestures when they could not use words, so they 
used pictures to transmit their thoughts across time and space; every word 
and every letter known to us was once a picture, even as trade-marks and 
the signs of the zodiac are to this day. The primeval Chinese pictures that 
preceded writing were called ku-ivan literally, "gesture-pictures." Totem 
poles were pictograph writing; they were, as Mason suggests, tribal 


autographs. Some tribes used notched sticks to help the memory 
or to convey a message; others, like the Algonquin Indians, not only 
notched the sticks but painted figures upon them, making them into min- 
iature totem poles; or perhaps these poles were notched sticks on a 
grandiose scale. The Peruvian Indians kept complex records, both of 
numbers and ideas, by knots and loops made in diversely colored cords; 
perhaps some light is shed upon the origins of the South American Indians 
by the fact that a similar custom existed among the natives of the Eastern 
Archipelago and Polynesia. Lao-tse, calling upon the Chinese to return 
to the simple life, proposed that they should go back to their primeval use 
of knotted cords. 18 

More highly developed forms of writing appear sporadically among na- 
ture men. Hieroglyphics have been found on Easter Island, in the South 
Seas; and on one of the Caroline Islands a script has been discovered which 
consists of fifty-one syllabic signs, picturing figures and ideas. 19 Tradition 
tells how the priests and chiefs of Easter Island tried to keep to themselves 
all knowledge of writing, and how the people assembled annually to hear 
the tablets read; writing was obviously, in its earlier stages, a mysterious and 
holy thing, a hieroglyph or sacred carving. We cannot be sure that these 
Polynesian scripts were not derived from some of the historic civilizations. 
In general, writing is a sign of civilization, the least uncertain of the pre- 
carious distinctions between civilized and primitive men. 

Literature is at first words rather than letters, despite its name; it arises as 
clerical chants or magic charms, recited usually by the priests, and trans- 
mitted orally from memory to memory. Carmina, as the Romans named 
poetry, meant both verses and charms; ode, among the Greeks, meant 
originally a magic spell; so did the English rune and lay, and the German 
Lied. Rhythm and meter, suggested, perhaps, by the rhythms of nature and 
bodily life, were apparently developed by magicians or shamans to pre- 
serve, transmit, and enhance the "magic incantations of their verse." 80 The 
Greeks attributed the first hexameters to the Delphic priests, who were be- 
lieved to have invented the meter for use in oracles.* 1 Gradually, out of 
these sacerdotal origins, the poet, the orator and the historian were differ- 
entiated and secularized: the orator as the official lauder of the king or solic- 
itor of the deity; the historian as the recorder of the royal deeds; the poet as 
the singer of originally sacred chants, the formulator and preserver of heroic 
legends, and the musician who put his tales to music for the instructioi^ 
populace and kings. So the Fijians, the Tahitians and the Nj 
donians had official orators and narrators to make addresses on 


ceremony, and to incite the warriors of the tribe by recounting the deeds of 
their forefathers and exalting the unequaled glories of the nation's past: how 
little do some recent historians differ from these! The Somali had profes- 
sional poets who went from village to village singing songs, like medieval 
minnesingers and troubadours. Only exceptionally were these poems of 
love; usually they dealt with physical heroism, or battle, or the relations of 
parents and children. Here, from the Easter Island tablets, is the lament of 
a father separated from his daughter by the fortunes of war: 

The sail of my daughter, 

Never broken by the force of foreign clans; 

The sail of my daughter, 

Unbroken by the conspiracy of Honiti! 

Ever victorious in all her fights, 

She could not be enticed to drink poisoned waters 

In the obsidian glass. 

Can my sorrow ever be appeased 

While we are divided by the mighty seas? 

O my daughter, O my daughter! 

It is a vast and watery road 

Over which I look toward the horizon, 

My daughter, O my daughter!" 


Origins Mathematics Astronomy Medicine Surgery 

In the opinion of Herbert Spencer, that supreme expert in the collection 
of evidence post judicium, science, like letters, began with the priests, 
originated in astronomic observations, governing religious festivals, and 
was preserved in the temples and transmitted across the generations as 
part of the clerical heritage." We cannot say, for here again beginnings 
elude us, and we may only surmise. Perhaps science, like civilization in 
general, began with agriculture; geometry, as its name indicates, was the 
measurement of the soil; and the calculation of crops and seasons, necessi- 
tating the observation of the stars and the construction of a calendar, may 
have generated astronomy. Navigation advanced astronomy, trade de- 
veloped mathematics, and the industrial arts laid the bases of physics and 


Counting was probably one of the earliest forms of speech, and in many 
tribes it still presents a relieving simplicity. The Tasmanians counted up 
to two: "Farmery, calabawa, cardia" i.e., "one, two, plenty"; the Gua- 
ranis of Brazil adventured further and said: "One, two, three, four, in- 
numerable." The New Hollanders had no words for three or four; three 
they called "two-one"; four was "two-two." Damara natives would not 
exchange two sheep for four sticks, but willingly exchanged, twice in 
succession, one sheep for two sticks. Counting was by the fingers; hence 
the decimal system. When apparently after some time the idea of twelve 
was reached, the number became a favorite because it was so pleasantly 
divisible by five of the first six digits; and that duodecimal system was 
born which obstinately survives in English measurements today: twelve 
months in a year, twelve pence in a shilling, twelve units in a dozen, twelve 
dozen in a gross, twelve inches in a foot. Thirteen, on the other hand, 
refused to be divided, and became disreputable and unlucky forever. Toes 
added to fingers created the idea of twenty or a score; the use of this unit 
in reckoning lingers in the French quatre-vingt (four twenties) for 
eighty" Other parts of the body served as standards of measurement: a 
hand for a "span," a thumb for an inch (in French the two words are the 
same), an elbow for a "cubit," an arm for an "ell," a foot for a foot. At 
an early date pebbles were added to fingers as an aid in counting; the 
survival of the abacus, and of the "little stone" (calculus) concealed in 
the word calculate, reveal to us how small, again, is the gap between the 
simplest and the latest men. Thoreau longed for this primitive simplicity, 
and well expressed a universally recurrent mood: "An honest man has 
hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or, in extreme cases he 
may add his toes, and lump the rest. I say, let our affairs be as two or 
three, and not as a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half 
a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail."* 

The measurement of time by the movements of the heavenly bodies 
was probably the beginning of astronomy; the very word measure, like 
the word month (and perhaps the word man the measurer), goes back 
apparently to a root denoting the moon. 80 Men measured time by moons 
long before they counted it by years; the sun, like the father, was a com- 
paratively late discovery; even today Easter is reckoned according to the 
phases of the moon. The Polynesians had a calendar of thirteen months, 
regulated by the moon; when their lunar year diverged too flagrantly 


from the procession of the seasons they dropped a moon, and the balance 
was restored.* 7 But such sane uses of the heavens were exceptional; 
astrology antedated and perhaps will survive astronomy; simple souls are 
more interested in telling futures than in telling time. A myriad of super- 
stitions grew up anent the influence of the stars upon human character 
and fate; and many of these superstitions flourish in our own day.* Per- 
haps they are not superstitions, but only another kind of error than science. 

Natural man formulates no physics, but merely practises it; he cannot 
plot the path of a projectile, but he can aim an arrow well; he has no 
chemical symbols, but he knows at a glance which plants are poison and 
which are food, and uses subtle herbs to heal the ills of the flesh. Perhaps 
we should employ another gender here, for probably the first doctors 
were women; not only because they were the natural nurses of the men, 
nor merely because they made midwifery, rather than venality, the oldest 
profession, but because their closer connection with the soil gave them a 
superior knowledge of plants, and enabled them to develop the art of 
medicine as distinct from the magic-mongering of the priests. From the 
earliest days to a time yet within our memory, it was the woman who 
healed. Only when the woman failed did the primitive sick resort to the 
medicine-man and the shaman? 

It is astonishing how many cures primitive doctors effected despite their 
theories of disease. 20 To these simple people disease seemed to be possession 
of the body by an alien power or spirit a conception not essentially differ- 
ent from the germ theory which pervades medicine today. The most 
popular method of cure was by some magic incantation that would pro- 
pitiate the evil spirit or drive it away. How perennial this form of therapy 
is may be seen in the story of the Gadarene swine. 80 * Even now epilepsy 
is regarded by many as a possession; some contemporary religions prescribe 
forms of exorcism for banishing disease, and prayer is recognized by most 
living people as an aid to pills and drugs. Perhaps the primitive practice 
was based, as much as the most modern, on the healing power of sugges- 
tion. The tricks of these early doctors were more dramatic than those of 
their more civilized successors: they tried to scare off the possessing 
demon by assuming terrifying masks, covering themselves with the skins 

* Extract from an advertisement in the Town Hall (New York) program of March 5, 

1934: "HOROSCOPES, by , Astrologer to New York's most distinguished 

social and professional clientele. Ten dollars an hour." 


of animals, shouting, raving, slapping their hands, shaking rattles, and 
sucking the demon out through a hollow tube; as an old adage put it, 
"Nature cures the disease while the remedy amuses the patient." The 
Brazilian Bororos carried the science to a higher stage by having the father 
take the medicine in order to cure the sick child; almost invariably the 
child got well. 80 

Along with medicative herbs we find in the vast pharmacopoeia of 
primitive man an assortment of soporific drugs calculated to ease pain or to 
facilitate operations. Poisons like curare (used so frequently on the 
tips of arrows), and drugs like hemp, opium and eucalyptus are older 
than history; one of our most popular anesthetics goes back to the Peruvian 
use of coca for this purpose. Carrier tells how the Iroquois cured scurvy 
with the bark and leaves of the hemlock spruce.* 1 Primitive surgery knew 
a variety of operations and instruments. Childbirth was well managed; 
fractures and wounds were ably set and dressed. 83 By means of obsidian 
knives, or sharpened flints, or fishes' teeth, blood was let, abscesses were 
drained, and tissues were scarified. Trephining of the skull was practised 
by primitive medicine-men from the ancient Peruvian Indians to the 
modern Melanesians; the latter averaged nine successes out of every ten 
operations, while in 1786 the same operation was invariably fatal at the 
Hotel-Dieu in Paris. 33 

We smile at primitive ignorance while we submit anxiously to the ex- 
pensive therapeutics of our own day. As Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes 
wrote, after a lifetime of healing: 

There is nothing men will not do, there is nothing they have not 
done, to recover their health and save their lives. They have sub- 
mitted to be half-drowned in water and half-choked with gases, to 
be buried up to their chins in earth, to be seared with hot irons like 
galley-slaves, to be crimped with knives like codfish, to have needles 
thrust into their flesh, and bonfires kindled on their skin, to swallow 
all sorts of abominations, and to pay for all this as if to be singed 
and scalded were a costly privilege, as if blisters were a blessing and 
leeches a luxury.** 



The meaning of beautyOf art The primitive sense of beauty 

The painting of the body Cosmetics Tattooing Scarifica- - 

tion Clothing Ornaments Pottery Painting 

Sculpture Architecture The dance Music 

Summary of the primitive preparation for 


After fifty thousand years of art men still dispute as to its sources in 
instinct and in history. What is beauty? why do we admire it? why do 
we endeavor to create it? Since this is no place for psychological discourse 
we shall answer, briefly and precariously, that beauty is any quality by 
which an object or a form pleases a beholder. Primarily and originally the 
object does not please the beholder because it is beautiful, but rather he 
calls it beautiful because it pleases him. Any object that satisfies desire 
will seem beautiful: food is beautiful Thai's is not beautiful to a starving 
man. The pleasing object may as like as not be the beholder himself; in our 
secret hearts no other form is quite so fair as ours, and art begins with the 
adornment of one's own exquisite body. Or the pleasing object may be the 
desired mate; and then the esthetic beauty-feeling sense takes on the in- 
tensity and creativeness of sex, and spreads the aura of beauty to every- 
thing that concerns the beloved one to all forms that resemble her, 
all colors that adorn her, please her or speak of her, all ornaments 
and garments that become her, all shapes and motions that recall 
her symmetry and grace. Or the pleasing form may be a desired 
male; and out of the attraction that here draws frailty to worship strength 
comes that sense of sublimity satisfaction in the presence of power which 
creates the loftiest art of all. Finally nature herself with our cooperation 
may become both sublime and beautiful; not only because it simulates 
and suggests all the tenderness of women and all the strength of men, but 
because we project into it our own feelings and fortunes, our love of others 
and of ourselves relishing in it the scenes of our youth, enjoying its quiet 
solitude as an escape from the storm of life, living with it through its almost 
human seasons of green youth, hot maturity, "mellow fruitfulness" and 
cold decay, and recognizing it vaguely as the mother that lent us life 
and will receive us in our death. 


Art is the creation of beauty; it is the expression of thought or feeling 
in a form that seems beautiful or sublime, and therefore arouses in us some 
reverberation of that primordial delight which woman gives to man, or man 
to woman. The thought may be any capture of life's significance, the feel- 
ing may be any arousal or release of life's tensions. The form may satisfy 
us through rhythm, which falls in pleasantly with the alternations of our 
breath, the pulsation of our blood, and the majestic oscillations of winter 
and summer, ebb and flow, night and day; or the form may please us 
through symmetry, which is a static rhythm, standing for strength and 
recalling to us the ordered proportions of plants and animals, of women 
and men; or it may please us through color, which brightens the spirit or 
intensifies life; or finally the form may please us through veracitybe- 
cause its lucid and transparent imitation of nature or reality catches some 
mortal loveliness of plant or animal, or some transient meaning of circum- 
stance, and holds it still for our lingering enjoyment or leisurely under- 
standing. From these many sources come those noble superfluities of life 
song and dance, music and drama, pottery and painting, sculpture and 
architecture, literature and philosophy. For what is philosophy but an art 
one more attempt to give "significant form" to the chaos of experience? 

If the sense of beauty is not strong in primitive society it may be because 
the lack of delay between sexual desire and fulfilment gives no time for 
that imaginative enhancement of the object which makes so much of the 
object's beauty. Primitive man seldom thinks of selecting women because 
of what we should call their beauty; he thinks rather of their usefulness, 
and never dreams of rejecting a strong-armed bride because of her ugli- 
ness. The Indian chief, being asked which of his wives was loveliest, 
apologized for never having thought of the matter. "Their faces," he said, 
with the mature wisdom of a Franklin, "might be more or less handsome, 
but in other respects women are all the same." Where a sense of beauty 
is present in primitive man it sometimes eludes us by being so different 
from our own. "All Negro races that I know," says Reichard, "account a 
woman beautiful who is not constricted at the waist, and when the body 
from the arm-pits to the hips is the same breadth 'like a ladder,' says the 
Coast Negro." Elephantine ears and an overhanging stomach are feminine 
charms to some African males; and throughout Africa it is the fat woman 
who is accounted loveliest. In Nigeria, says Mungo Park, "corpulence and 
beauty seem to be terms nearly synonymous. A woman of even moderate 


pretensions must be one who cannot walk without a slave under each arm 
to support her; and a perfect beauty is a load for a camel." "Most savages/' 
says Briffault, "have a preference for what we should regard as one of 
the most unsightly features in a woman's form, namely, long, hanging 
breasts."* "It is well known," says Darwin, "that with many Hottentot 
women the posterior part of the body projects in a wonderful manner . . .; 
and Sir Andrew Smith is certain that this peculiarity is greatly admired by 
the men. He once saw a woman who was considered a beauty, and she 
was so immensely developed behind that when seated on level ground she 
could not rise, and had to push herself along until she came to a slope. . . . 
According to Burton the Somali men are said to choose their wives by 
ranging them in a line, and by picking her out who projects furthest a tergo. 
Nothing can be more hateful to a Negro than the opposite form." 88 

Indeed it is highly probable that the natural male thinks of beauty in 
terms of himself rather than in terms of woman; art begins at home. Primi- 
tive men equaled modern men in vanity, incredible as this will seem to 
women. Among simple peoples, as among animals, it is the male rather 
than the female that puts on ornament and mutilates his body for beauty's 
sake. In Australia, says Bonwick, "adornments are almost entirely monop- 
olized by men"; so too in Melanesia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, New 
Britain, New Hanover, and among the North American Indians. 87 In some 
tribes more time is given to the adornment of the body than to any other 
business of the day. 88 Apparently the first form of art is the artificial color- 
ing of the body sometimes to attract women, sometimes to frighten foes. 
The Australian native, like the latest American belle, always carried with 
him a provision of white, red, and yellow paint for touching up his beauty 
now and then; and when the supply threatened to run out he undertook 
expeditions of some distance and danger to renew it. On ordinary days he 
contented himself with a few spots of color on his cheeks, his shoulders 
and his breast; but on festive occasions he felt shamefully nude unless his 
entire body was painted. 89 

In some tribes the men reserved to themselves the right to paint the 
body; in others the married women were forbidden to paint their necks. 40 
But women were not long in acquiring the oldest of the arts cosmetics. 
When Captain Cook dallied in New Zealand he noticed that his sailors, 
when they returned from their adventures on shore, had artificially red or 
yellow noses; the paint of the native Helens had stuck to them." The 


Fellatah ladies of Central Africa spent several hours a day over their toilette: 
they made their fingers and toes purple by keeping them wrapped all night 
in henna leaves; they stained their teeth alternately with blue, yellow, and 
purple dyes; they colored their hair with indigo, and penciled their eyelids 
with sulphuret of antimony." Every Bongo lady carried in her dressing- 
case tweezers for pulling out eyelashes and eyebrows, lancet-shaped hair- 
pins, rings and bells, buttons and clasps. 43 

The primitive soul, like the Periclean Greek, fretted over the transi- 
toriness of painting, and invented tattooing, scarification and clothing as 
more permanent adornments. The women as well as the men, in many tribes, 
submitted to the coloring needle, and bore without flinching even the tat- 
tooing of their lips. In Greenland the mothers tattooed their daughters 
early, the sooner to get them married off." Most often, however, tattooing 
itself was considered insufficiently visible or impressive, and a number of 
tribes on every continent produced deep scars on their flesh to make them- 
selves lovelier to their fellows, or more discouraging to their enemies. As 
Theophile Gautier put it, "having no clothes to embroider, they embroid- 
ered their skins." 46 Flints or mussel shells cut the flesh, and often a ball of 
earth was placed within the wound to enlarge the scar. The Torres Straits 
natives wore huge scars like epaulets; the Abcokuta cut themselves to pro- 
duce scars imitative of lizards, alligators or tortoises. 40 "There is," says 
Georg, "no part of the body that has not been perfected, decorated, dis- 
figured, painted, bleached, tattooed, reformed, stretched or squeezed, out of 
vanity or desire for ornament."" The Botocudos derived their name from 
a plug (botoque) which they inserted into the lower lip and the ears in 
the eighth year of life, and repeatedly replaced with a larger plug until 
the opening was as much as four inches in diameter. 48 Hottentot women 
trained the labia mlnora to assume enoromous lengths, so producing at last 
the "Hottentot apron" so greatly admired by their men. 49 Ear-rings and 
nose-rings were de rigueur; the natives of Gippsland believed that one who 
died without a nose-ring would suffer horrible torments in the next life. 00 
It is all very barbarous, says the modern lady, as she bores her ears for rings, 
paints her lips and her cheeks, tweezes her eyebrows, reforms her eyelashes, 
powders her face, her neck and her arms, and compresses her feet. The 
tattooed sailor speaks with superior sympathy of the "savages" he has 
known; and the Continental student, horrified by primitive mutilations, 
sports his honorific scars. 

Clothing was apparently, in its origins, a form of ornament, a sexual 
deterrent or charm rather than an article of use against cold or shame. 81 


The Cimbri were in the habit of tobogganing naked over the snow. 53 When 
Darwin, pitying the nakedness of the Fuegians, gave one of them a red 
cloth as a protection against the cold, the native tore it into strips, which 
he and his companions then used as ornaments; as Cook had said of them, 
timelessly, they were "content to be naked, but ambitious to be fine."" In 
like manner the ladies of the Orinoco cut into shreds the materials given 
them by the Jesuit Fathers for clothing; they wore the ribbons so made 
around their necks, but insisted that "they would be ashamed to wear 
clothing/'" An old author describes the Brazilian natives as usually naked, 
and adds: "Now alreadie some doe weare apparell, but esteem it so little 
that they weare it rather for fashion than for honesties sake, and because 
they are commanded to weare it; ... as is well scene by some that some- 
times come abroad with certaine garments no further than the navell, with- 
out any other thing, or others onely a cap on their heads, and leave the 
other garments at home."" When clothing became something more than 
an adornment it served partly to indicate the married status of a loyal wife, 
partly to accentuate the form and beauty of woman. For the most part 
primitive women asked of clothing precisely what later women have 
asked not that it should quite cover their nakedness, but that it should 
enhance or suggest their charms. Everything changes, except woman 
and man. 

From the beginning both sexes preferred ornaments to clothing. Primi- 
tive trade seldom deals in necessities; it is usually confined to articles of 
adornment or play." Jewelry is one of the most ancient elements of civili- 
zation; in tombs twenty thousand years old, shells and teeth have been found 
strung into necklaces." From simple beginnings such embellishments soon 
reached impressive proportions, and played a lofty role in life. The Galla 
women wore rings to the weight of six pounds, and some Dinka women 
carried half a hundredweight of decoration. One African belle wore cop- 
per rings which became hot under the sun, so that she had to employ an 
attendant to shade or fan her. The Queen of the Wabunias on the Congo 
wore a brass collar weighing twenty pounds; she had to lie down every 
now and then to rest. Poor women who were so unfortunate as to have 
only light jewelry imitated carefully the steps of those who carried great 
burdens of bedizenment." 

The first source of art, then, is akin to the display of colors and plumage 
on the male animal in mating time; it lies in the desire to adorn and beautify 


the body. And just as self-love and mate-love, overflowing, pour out their 
surplus of affection upon nature, so the impulse to beautify passes from the 
personal to the external world. The soul seeks to express its feeling in objec- 
tive ways, through color and form; art really begins when men undertake to 
beautify things. Perhaps its first external medium was pottery. The potter's 
wheel, like writing and the state, belongs to the historic civilizations; but even 
without it primitive men or rather women lifted this ancient industry to an 
art, and achieved merely with clay, water and deft fingers an astonishing sym- 
metry of form; witness the pottery fashioned by the Baronga of South 
Africa, 89 or by the Pueblo Indians. 80 

When the potter applied colored designs to the surface of the vessel he had 
formed, he was creating the art of painting. In primitive hands painting is not 
yet an independent art; it exists as an adjunct to pottery and statuary. Nature 
men made colors out of clay, and the Andamanese made oil colors by mixing 
ochre with oils or fats. 81 Such colors were used to ornament weapons, imple- 
ments, vases, clothing, and buildings. Many hunting tribes of Africa and 
Oceania painted upon the walls of their caves or upon neighboring rocks 
vivid representations of the animals that they sought in the chase. 83 

Sculpture, like painting, probably owed its origin to pottery: the potter 
found that he could mold not only articles of use, but imitative figures that 
might serve as magic amulets, and then as things of beauty in themselves. 
The Eskimos carved caribou antlers and walrus ivory into figurines of animals 
and men. 83 Again, primitive man sought to mark his hut, or a totem-pole, or 
a grave with some image that would indicate the object worshiped, or the 
person deceased; at first he carved merely a face upon a post, then a head, 
then the whole post; and through this filial marking of graves sculpture be- 
came an art.* 4 So the ancient dwellers on Easter Island topped with enormous 
monolithic statues the vaults of their dead; scores of such statues, many of 
them twenty feet high, have been found there; some, now prostrate in ruins, 
were apparently sixty feet tall. 

How did architecture begin? We can hardly apply so magnificent a term 
to the construction of the primitive hut; for architecture is not mere building, 
but beautiful building. It began when for the first time a man or a woman 
thought of a dwelling in terms of appearance as well as of use. Probably 
this effort to give beauty or sublimity to a structure was directed first to 
graves rather than to homes; while the commemorative pillar developed into 
statuary, the tomb grew into a temple. For to primitive thought the dead 
were more important and powerful than the living; and, besides, the dead 
could remain settled in one place, while the living wandered too often to 
warrant their raising permanent homes. 

Even in early days, and probably long before he thought of carving objects 
or building tombs, man found pleasure in rhythm, and began to develop the 


crying and warbling, the prancing and preening, of the animal into song and 
dance. Perhaps, like the animal, he sang before he learned to talk," and 
danced as early as he sang. Indeed no art so characterized or expressed 
primitive man as the dance. He developed it from primordial simplicity to a 
complexity unrivaled in civilization, and varied it into a thousand forms. The 
great festivals of the tribes were celebrated chiefly with communal and in- 
dividual dancing; great wars were opened with martial steps and chants; the 
great ceremonies of religion were a mingling of song, drama and dance. What 
seems to us now to be forms of play were probably serious matters to early 
men; they danced not merely to express themselves, but to offer suggestions 
to nature or the gods; for example, the periodic incitation to abundant repro- 
duction was accomplished chiefly through the hypnotism of the dance. 
Spencer derived the dance from the ritual of welcoming a victorious chief 
home from the wars; Freud derived it from the natural expression of sensual 
desire, and the group technique of erotic stimulation; if one should assert, with 
similar narrowness, that the dance was born of sacred rites and mummeries, 
and then merge the three theories into one, there might result as definite a 
conception of the origin of the dance as can be attained by us today. 

From the dance, we may believe, came instrumental music and the drama. 
The making of such music appears to arise out of a desire to mark and accen- 
tuate with sound the rhythm of the dance, and to intensify with shrill or 
rhythmic notes the excitement necessary to patriotism or procreation. The 
instruments were limited in range and accomplishment, but almost endless in 
variety: native ingenuity exhausted itself in fashioning horns, trumpets, gongs, 
tamtams, clappers, rattles, castanets, flutes and drums from horns, skins, shells, 
ivory, brass, copper, bamboo and wood; and it ornamented them with elabo- 
rate carving and coloring. The taut string of the bow became the origin of 
a hundred instruments from the primitive lyre to the Stradivarius violin and 
the modern pianoforte. Professional singers, like professional dancers, arose 
among the tribes; and vague scales, predominantly minor in tone, were de- 

With music, song and dance combined, the "savage" created for us the 
drama and the opera. For the primitive dance was frequently devoted to 
mimicry; it imitated, most simply, the movements of animals and men, and 
passed to the mimetic performance of actions and events. So some Australian 
tribes staged a sexual dance around a pit ornamented with shrubbery to rep- 
resent the vulva, and, after ecstatic and erotic gestures and prancing, cast their 
spears symbolically into the pit. The northwestern tribes of the same island 
played a drama of death and resurrection differing only in simplicity from 
the medieval mystery and modern Passion plays: the dancers slowly sank to 
the ground, hid their heads under the boughs they carried, and simulated 


death; then, at a sign from their leader, they rose abruptly in a wild triumphal 
chant and dance announcing the resurrection of the soul. 07 In like manner a 
thousand forms of pantomime described events significant to the history of 
the tribe, or actions important in the individual life. When rhythm dis- 
appeared from these performances the dance passed into the drama, and one 
of the greatest of art-forms was born. 

In these ways precivilized men created the forms and bases of civiliza- 
tion. Looking backward upon this brief survey of primitive culture, we 
find every element of civilization except writing and the state. All the 
modes of economic life are invented for us here: hunting and fishing, herd- 
ing and tillage, transport and building, industry and commerce and finance. 
AU the simpler structures of political life are organized: the clan, the fam- 
ily, the village community, and the tribe; freedom and order those hostile 
foci around which civilization revolves find their first adjustment and rec- 
onciliation; law and justice begin. The fundamentals of morals are estab- 
lished: the training of children, the regulation of the sexes, the inculcation 
of honor and decency, of manners and loyalty. The bases of religion are 
laid, and its hopes and terrors are applied to the encouragement of morals 
and the strengthening of the group. Speech is developed into complex 
languages, medicine and surgery appear, and modest beginnings are made 
in science, literature and art. All in all it is a picture of astonishing creation, 
of form rising out of chaos, of one road after another being opened from 
the animal to the sage. Without these "savages," and their hundred thou- 
sand years of experiment and groping, civilization could not have been. 
We owe almost everything to them as a fortunate, and possibly degen- 
erate, youth inherits the means to culture, security and ease through 
the long toil of an unlettered ancestry. 


The Prehistoric Beginnings 
of Civilization 


The purpose of prehistory The romances of archeology 

BUT we have spoken loosely; these primitive cultures that we have 
sketched as a means of studying the elements of civilization were not 
necessarily the ancestors of our own; for all that we know they may be the 
degenerate remnants of higher cultures that decayed when human leader- 
ship moved in the wake of the receding ice from the tropics to the north 
temperate zone. We have tried to understand how civilization in general 
arises and takes form; we have still to trace the prehistoric* origins of 
our own particular civilization. We wish now to inquire briefly for this 
is a field that only borders upon our purpose by what steps man, before 
history, prepared for the civilizations of history: how the man of the 
jungle or the cave became an Egyptian architect, a Babylonian astronomer, 
a Hebrew prophet, a Persian governor, a Greek poet, a Roman engineer, 
a Hindu saint, a Japanese artist, and a Chinese sage. We must pass from 
anthropology through archeology to history. 

All over the earth seekers are digging into the earth: some for gold, some 
for silver, some for iron, some for coal; many of them for knowledge. 
What strange busyness of men exhuming paleolithic tools from the banks 
of the Somme, studying with strained necks the vivid paintings on the 
ceilings of prehistoric caves, unearthing antique skulls at Chou Kou Tien, 
revealing the buried cities of Mohenjo-daro or Yucatan, carrying debris 
in basket-caravans out of curse-ridden Egyptian tombs, lifting out of the 
dust the palaces of Minos and Priam, uncovering the ruins of Persepolis, 
burrowing into the soil of Africa for some remnant of Carthage, recaptur- 
ing from the jungle the majestic temples of Angkor! In 1839 Jacques 
Boucher de Perthes found the first Stone Age flints at Abbeville, in France; 

This word will be used as applying to all ages before historical records. 


Geological Divisioial 
Period Epoch Stagt* y 


ist Interg 
2nd Intel 




3rd Inter 


g 11 
1 \*? 
O ^ 

4 th Ice^ 







("Wholly R 



for nine years the world laughed at him as a dupe. In 1872 Schliemann, 
with his own money, almost with his own hands, unearthed the young- 
est of the many cities of Troy; but all the world smiled incredulously. 
Never has any century been so interested in history as that which followed 
the voyage of young Champollion with young Napoleon to Egypt ( 1 796) ; 
Napoleon returned empty-handed, but Champollion came back with all 
Egypt, past and current, in his grasp. Every generation since has discov- 
ered new civilizations or cultures, and has pushed farther and farther back 
the frontier of man's knowledge of his development. There arc not many 
things finer in our murderous species than this noble curiosity, this rest- 
less and reckless passion to understand. 

1. Men of the Old Stone Age 
The geological background Paleolithic types 

Immense volumes have been written to expound our knowledge, and 
conceal our ignorance, of primitive man. We leave to other imaginative 
sciences the task of describing the men of the Old and the New Stone 
Age; our concern is to trace the contributions of these "paleolithic" and 
"neolithic" cultures to our contemporary life. 

The picture we must form as background to the story is of an earth con- 
siderably different from that which tolerates us transiently today: an earth 
presumably shivering with the intermittent glaciations that made our now 
temperate zones arctic for thousands of years, and piled up masses of rock 
like the Himalayas, the Alps and the Pyrenees before the plough of the ad- 
vancing ice.* If we accept the precarious theories of contemporary science, 
the creature who became man by learning to speak was one of the adaptable 
species that survived from those frozen centuries. In the Interglacial Stages, 
while the ice was retreating (and, for all we know, long before that), this 
strange organism discovered fire, developed the an of fashioning stone and 
bone into weapons and tools, and thereby paved the way to civilization. 

* Current geological theory places the First Ice Age about 500,000 B.C.; the First Inter- 
glacial Stage about 475,000 to 400,000 B.C.; the Second Ice Age about 400,000 B.C.; the 
Second Interglacial Stage about 375,000 to 175,000 B.C.; the Third Ice Age about 175,000 
B.C.; the Third Interglacial Stage about 150,000 to 50,000 B.C.; the Fourth (and latest) Ice 
Age about 50,000 to 25,000 B.C.* We arc now in the Postglacial Stage, whose date of 
termination has not been accurately calculated. These and other details have been 
arranged more visibly in the table at the head of this chapter. 


Various remains have been found whichsubject to later correction are 
attributed to this prehistoric man. In 1929 a young Chinese paleontologist, 
W. C. Pei, discovered in a cave at Chou Kou Tien, some thirty-seven miles 
from Peiping, a skull adjudged to be human by such experts as the Abbe 
Breuil and G. Elliot Smith. Near the skull were traces of fire, and stones 
obviously worked into tools; but mingled with these signs of human agency 
were the bones of animals ascribed by common consent to the Early Pleisto- 
cene Epoch, a million years ago. 8 This Peking skull is by common opinion 
the oldest human fossil known to us; and the tools found with it are the 
first human artefacts in history. At Piltdown, in Sussex, England, Dawson and 
Woodward found in 1911 some possibly human fragments now known as 
"Piltdown Man," or Eoanthropus (Dawn Man); the dates assigned to it 
range spaciously from 1,000,000 to 125,000 B.C. Similar uncertainties attach to 
the skull and thigh-bones found in Java in 1891, and the jaw-bone found near 
Heidelberg in 1907. The earliest unmistakably human fossils were discovered 
at Neanderthal, near Diisseldorf, Germany, in 1857; they date apparently 
from 40,000 B.C., and so resemble human remains unearthed in Belgium, 
France and Spain, and even on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, that a whole 
race of "Neanderthal Men" has been pictured as possessing Europe some 
forty millenniums before our era. They were short, but they had a cranial ca- 
pacity of 1600 cubic centimeters which is 200 more than ours. 4 

These ancient inhabitants of Europe seem to have been displaced, some 
20,000 B.C., by a new race, named Cro-Magnon, from the discovery of its 
relics (1868) in a grotto of that name in the Dordogne region of southern 
France. Abundant remains of like type and age have been exhumed at 
various points in France, Switzerland, Germany and Wales. They indicate a 
people of magnificent vigor and stature, ranging from five feet ten inches to 
six feet four inches in height, and having a skull capacity of 1590 to 1715 
cubic centimeters." Like the Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon men are known to 
us as "cave-men," because their remains are found in caves; but there is no 
proof that these were their sole dwelling-place; it may be again but a jest 
of time that only those of them who lived in caves, or died in them, have 
transmitted their bones to archeologists. According to present theory this 
splendid race came from central Asia through Africa into Europe by land- 
bridges presumed to have then connected Africa with Italy and Spain. 8 The 
distribution of their fossils suggests that they fought for many decades, per- 
haps centuries, a war with the Neanderthals for the possession of Europe; so 
old is the conflict between Germany and France. At all events, Neanderthal 
Man disappeared; Cro-Magnon Man survived, became the chief progeni- 
tor of the modern western European, and laid the bases of that civilization 
which we inherit today. 


The cultural remains of these and other European types of the Old Stone 
Age have been classified into seven main groups, according to the location 
of the earliest or principal finds in France. All are characterized by the use 
of unpolished stone implements. The first three took form in the precarious 
interval between the third and fourth glaciations. 

I. The Pre-Chellean Culture or Industry, dating some 125,000 
B.C.: most of the flints found in this low layer give little evidence 
of fashioning, and appear to have been used (if at all) as nature 
provided them; but the presence of many stones of a shape to fit 
the fist, and in some degree flaked and pointed, gives to Pre- 
Chellean man the presumptive honor of having made the first 
known tool of European man the coup-de-poing, or "blow-of- 
the-fist" stone. 

II. The Chellean Culture, ca. 100,000 B.C., improved this tool 
by roughly flaking it on both sides, pointing it into the shape of 
an almond, and fitting it better to the hand. 

III. The Acheulean Culture, about 75,000 B.C., left an abun- 
dance of remains in Europe, Greenland, the United States, Canada, 
Mexico, Africa, the Near East, India, and China; it not only 
brought the coup-de-poing to greater symmetry and point, but it 
produced a vast variety of special tools hammers, anvils, scrapers, 
planes, arrow-heads, spear-heads, and knives; already one sees a 
picture of busy human industry. 

IV. The Mousterian Culture is found on all continents, in espe- 
cial association with the remains of Neanderthal Man, about 40,000 
B.C. Among these flints the coup-de-poing is comparatively rare, 
as something already ancient and superseded. The implements 
were formed from a large single flake, lighter, sharper and shape- 
lier than before, and by skilful hands with a long-established tra- 
dition of artisanship. Higher in the Pleistocene strata of southern 
France appear the remains of 

V. The Aurignacian Culture, ca. 25,000 B.C., the first of the 
postglacial industries, and the first known culture of Cro-Magnon 
Man. Bone tools pins, anvils, polishers, etc. were now added to 
those of stone; and art appeared in the form of crude engravings 
on the rocks, or simple figurines in high relief, mostly of nude 
women/ At a higher stage of Cro-Magnon development 


VI. The Solutrean Culture appears ca. 20,000 B.C., in France, 
Spain, Czechoslovakia and Poland: points, planes, drills, saws, 
javelins and spears were added to the tools and weapons of Aurig- 
nacian days; slim, sharp needles were made of bone, many imple- 
ments were carved out of reindeer horn, and the reindeer's antlers 
were engraved occasionally with animal figures appreciably supe- 
rior to Aurignacian art. Finally, at the peak of Cro-Magnon 

VII. The Magdalenian Culture appears throughout Europe 
about 16,000 B.C.; in industry it was characterized by a large assort- 
ment of delicate utensils in ivory, bone and horn, culminating in 
humble but perfect needles and pins; in art it was the age of the 
Altamira drawings, the most perfect and subtle accomplishment of 
Cro-Magnon Man. 

Through these cultures of the Old Stone Age prehistoric man laid the 
bases of those handicrafts which were to remain part of the European 
heritage until the Industrial Revolution. Their transmission to the classic and 
modern civilizations was made easier by the wide spread of paleolithic in- 
dustries. The skull and cave-painting found in Rhodesia in 1921, the flints dis- 
covered in Egypt by De Morgan in 1896, the paleolithic finds of Seton-Karr 
in Somaliland, the Old Stone Age deposits in the basin of the Fayum,* and 
the Still Bay Culture of South Africa indicate that the Dark Continent went 
through approximately the same prehistoric periods of development in the art 
of flaking stone as those which we have outlined in Europe; 8 perhaps, indeed, 
the quasi-Aurignacian remains in Tunis and Algiers strengthen the hypothesis 
of an African origin or stopping-point for the Cro-Magnon race, and there- 
fore for European man.' Paleolithic implements have been dug up in Syria, 
India, China, Siberia, and other sections of Asia; 10 Andrews and his Jesuit 
predecessors came upon them in Mongolia;" Neanderthal skeletons and Mous- 
terian-Aurignacian flints have been exhumed in great abundance in Palestine; 
and we have seen how the oldest known human remains and implements have 
lately been unearthed near Peiping. Bone tools have been discovered in 
Nebraska which some patriotic authorities would place at 500,000 B.C.; arrow- 
heads have been found in Oklahoma and New Mexico which their finders 
assure us were made in 350,000 B.C. So vast was the bridge by which pre- 
historic transmitted the foundations of civilization to historic man. 

* An oasis west of the Middle Nile. 


2. Arts of the Old Stone Age 
Tools Fire Painting Sculpture 

If now we sum up the implements fashioned by paleolithic man we shall 
gain a clearer idea of his life than by giving loose rein to our fancy. It was 
natural that a stone in the fist should be the first tool; many an animal 
could have taught that to man. So the coup-de-pomgz rock sharp at 
one end, round at the other to fit the palm of the hand became for pri- 
meval man hammer, axe, chisel, scraper, knife and saw; even to this day 
the word hammer means, etymologically, a stone. 13 Gradually these spe- 
cific tools were differentiated out of the one homogeneous form: holes 
were bored to attach a handle; teeth were inserted to make a saw, branches 
were tipped with the coup-de-poing to make a pick, an arrow or a spear. 
The scraper-stone that had the shape of a shell became a shovel or a hoe; 
the rough-surfaced stone became a file; the stone in a sling became a 
weapon of war that would survive even classical antiquity. Given bone, 
wood and ivory as well as stone, and paleolithic man made himself a 
varied assortment of weapons and tools: polishers, mortars, axes, planes, 
scrapers, drills, lamps, knives, chisels, choppers, lances, anvils, etchers, 
daggers, fish-hooks, harpoons, wedges, awls, pins, and doubtless many 
more. 14 Every day he stumbled upon new knowledge, and sometimes he 
had the wit to develop his chance discoveries into purposeful inventions. 

But his great achievement was fire. Darwin has pointed out how the 
hot lava of volcanoes might have taught men the art of fire; according to 
-flSschylus, Prometheus established it by igniting a narthex stalk in the 
burning crater of a volcano on the isle of Lcmnos." Among Neanderthal 
remains we find bits of charcoal and charred bones; man-made fire, then, 
is at least 40,000 years old. " Cro-Magnon man ground stone bowls to hold 
the grease that he burned to give him light: the lamp, therefore, is also of 
considerable age. Presumably it was fire that enabled man to meet the 
threat of cold from the advancing ice; fire that left him free to sleep on 
the earth at night, since animals dreaded the marvel as much as primitive 
men worshiped it; fire that conquered the dark and began that lessening of 
fear which is one of the golden threads in the not quite golden web of 
history; fire that created the old and honorable art of cooking, extending 
the diet of man to a thousand foods inedible before; fire that led at last 


to the fusing of metals, and the only real advance in technology from 
Cro-Magnon days to the Industrial Revolution." 

Strange to relate and as if to illustrate Gautier's lines on robust art 
outlasting emperors and states our clearest relics of paleolithic man are 
fragments of his art. Sixty years ago Senor Marcelino de Sautuola came up- 
on a large cave on his estate at Altamira, in northern Spain. For thousands of 
years the entrance had been hermetically sealed by fallen rocks naturally 
cemented with stalagmite deposits. Blasts for new construction accident- 
ally opened the entrance. Three years later Sautuola explored the cave, 
and noticed some curious markings on the walls. One day his little daugh- 
ter accompanied him. Not compelled, like her father, to stoop as she 
walked through the cave, she could look up and observe the ceiling. There 
she saw, in vague outline, the painting of a great bison, magnificently 
colored and drawn. Many other drawings were found on closer exami- 
nation of the ceiling and the walls. When, in 1880, Sautuola published 
his report on these observations, archeologists greeted him with genial 
scepticism. Some did him the honor of going to inspect the drawings, 
only to pronounce them the forgery of a hoaxer. For thirty years this 
quite reasonable incredulity persisted. Then the discovery of other draw- 
ings in caves generally conceded to be prehistoric (from their contents of 
unpolished flint tools, and polished ivory and bone) confirmed Sautuola's 
judgment; but Sautuola now was dead. Geologists came to Altamira and 
testified, with the unanimity of hindsight, that the stalagmite coating on 
many of the drawings was a paleolithic deposit." General opinion now 
places these Altamira drawings and the greater portion of extant pre- 
historic art in the Magdalenian culture, some 1 6,000 B.C." Paintings slight- 
ly later in time, but still of the Old Stone Age, have been found in many 
caves of France.* 

Most often the subjects of these drawings are animals reindeers, mam- 
moths, horses, boars, bears, etc.; these, presumably, were dietetic luxuries, 
and therefore favorite objects of the chase. Sometimes the animals are 
transfixed with arrows; these, in the view of Frazer and Reinach, were 
intended as magic images that would bring the animal under the power, 
and into the stomach, of the artist or the hunter." Conceivably they were 
just plain art, drawn with the pure joy of esthetic creation; the crudest 

* Combarelles, Les Eyzies, Font de Gaume, etc. 


representation should have sufficed the purposes of magic, whereas these 
paintings are often of such delicacy, power and skill as to suggest the un- 
happy thought that art, in this field at least, has not advanced much in the 
long course of human history. Here is life, action, nobility, conveyed over- 
whelmingly with one brave line or two; here a single stroke (or is it that 
the others have faded? ) creates a living, charging beast. Will Leonardo's 
Last Supper, or El Greco's Assumption, bear up as well as these Cro- 
Magnon paintings after twenty thousand years? 

Painting is a sophisticated art, presuming many centuries of mental and 
technical development. If we may accept current theory (which it is always a 
perilous thing to do), painting developed from statuary, by a passage from 
carving in the round to bas-relief and thence to mere outline and coloring; 
painting is sculpture minus a dimension. The intermediate prehistoric art is 
well represented by an astonishingly vivid bas-relief of an archer (or a spear- 
man) on the Aurignacian cliffs at Laussel in France. 21 In a cave in Ariegc, 
France, Louis Begouen discovered, among other Magdalenian relics, several 
ornamental handles carved out of reindeer antlers; one of these is of mature 
and excellent workmanship, as if the art had already generations of tradition 
and development behind it. Throughout the prehistoric Mediterranean- 
Egypt, Crete, Italy, France and Spain countless figures of fat little women 
are found, which indicate either a worship of motherhood or an African 
conception of beauty. Stone statues of a wild horse, a reindeer and a mam- 
moth have been unearthed in Czechoslovakia, among remains uncertainly 
ascribed to 30,000 B.C.* 

The whole interpretation of history as progress falters when we con- 
sider that these statues, bas-reliefs and paintings, numerous though they 
are, may be but an infinitesimal fraction of the art that expressed or adorned 
the life of primeval man. What remains is found in caves, where the 
elements were in some measure kept at bay; it does not follow that pre- 
historic men were artists only when they were in caves. They may have 
carved as sedulously and ubiquitously as the Japanese, and may have 
fashioned statuary as abundantly as the Greeks; they may have painted 
not only the rocks in their caverns, but textiles, wood, everythingnot 
excepting themselves. They may have created masterpieces far superior to 
the fragments that survive. In one grotto a tube was discovered, made from 
the bones of a reindeer, and filled with pigment; 28 in another a stone palette 


was picked up still thick with red ochre paint despite the transit of two 
hundred centuries.* 4 Apparently the arts were highly developed and 
widely practised eighteen thousand years ago. Perhaps there was a class 
of professional artists among paleolithic men; perhaps there were Bohem- 
ians starving in the less respectable caves, denouncing the commercial bour- 
geoisie, plotting the death of academies, and forging antiques. 


The Kitchen-Middens The Lake-Dwellers The coming of 
agriculture The taming of animals Technology Neo- 
lithic weaving pottery building transport religion 
science Summary of the prehistoric preparation 
for civilization 

At various times in the last one hundred years great heaps of seemingly 
prehistoric refuse have been found, in France, Sardinia, Portugal, Brazil, Japan 
and Manchuria, but above all in Denmark, where they received that queer 
name of Kitchen-Middens (Kjokken-moddinger) by which such ancient 
messes are now generally known. These rubbish heaps are composed of 
shells, especially of oysters, mussels and periwinkles; of the bones of various 
land and marine animals; of tools and weapons of horn, bone and unpolished 
stone; and of mineral remains like charcoal, ashes and broken pottery. These 
unprepossessing relics are apparently signs of a culture formed about the 
eighth millennium before Christ later than the true paleolithic, and yet not 
properly neolithic, because not yet arrived at the use of polished stone. We 
know hardly anything of the men who left these remains, except that they 
had a certain catholic taste. Along with the slightly older culture of the Mas- 
d'Azil, in France, the Middens represent a "mesolithic" (middle-stone) or 
transition period between the paleolithic and the neolithic age. 

In the year 1854, the winter being unusually dry, the level of the Swiss 
lakes sank, and revealed another epoch in prehistory. At some two hun- 
dred localities on these lakes piles were found which had stood in place 
under the water for from thirty to seventy centuries. The piles were so 
arranged as to indicate that small villages had been built upon them, per- 
haps for isolation or defense; each was connected with the land only by a 
narrow bridge, whose foundations, in some cases, were still in place; here 
and there even the framework of the houses had survived the patient play 


of the waters.* Amid these ruins were tools of bone and polished stone 
which became for archeologists the distinguishing mark of the New Stone 
Age that flourished some 10,000 B.C. in Asia, and some 5000 B.C. in Europe. 8 * 
Akin to these remains are the gigantic tumuli left in the valleys of the 
Mississippi and its tributaries by the strange race that we call the Mound- 
Builders, and of which we know nothing except that in these mounds, 
shaped in the form of altars, geometric figures, or totem animals, are found 
objects of stone, shell, bone and beaten metal which place these mysterious 
men at the end of the neolithic period. 

If from such remains we attempt to patch together some picture of the 
New Stone Age, we find at once a startling innovation agriculture. In one 
sense all human history hinges upon two revolutions: the neolithic pas- 
sage from hunting to agriculture, and the modern passage from agriculture 
to industry; no other revolutions have been quite as real or basic as these. 
The remains show that the Lake-Dwellers ate wheat, millet, rye, barley 
and oats, besides one hundred and twenty kinds of fruit and many varie- 
ties of nut." No ploughs have been found in these ruins, probably because 
the first ploughshares were of wood some strong tree-trunk and branch 
fitted with a flint edge; but a neolithic rock-carving unmistakably shows 
a peasant guiding a plough drawn by two oxen. 30 This marks the appear- 
ance of one of the epochal inventions of history. Before agriculture the 
earth could have supported (in the rash estimate of Sir Arthur Keith) only 
some twenty million men, and the lives of these were shortened by the 
mortality of the chase and war; 81 now began that multiplication of man- 
kind which definitely confirmed man's mastery of the planet. 

Meanwhile the men of the New Stone Age were establishing another of 
the foundations of civilization: the domestication and breeding of animals. 
Doubtless this was a long process, probably antedating the neolithic 
period. A certain natural sociability may have contributed to the associa- 
tion of man and animal, as we may still see in the delight that primitive 
people take in taming wild beasts, and in filling their huts with monkeys, 
parrots and similar companions. 88 The oldest bones in the neolithic remains 

* Remains of similar lake dwellings have been found in France, Italy, Scotland, Russia, 
North America, India, and elsewhere. Such villages still exist in Borneo, Sumatra, New 
Guinea, etc. 98 Venezuela owes its name (Little Venice) to the fact that when Alonso de 
Ojeda discovered it for Europe (1499) he found the natives living in pile-dwellings on 
Lake Maracaibo." 



(ca. 8000 B.C.) are those of the dogthe most ancient and honorable com- 
panion of the human race. A little later (ca. 6000 B.C.) came the goat, the 
sheep, the pig and the ox. 88 Finally the horse, which to paleolithic man 
had been, if we may judge from the cave drawings, merely a beast of prey, 
was taken into camp, tamed, and turned into a beloved slave; 84 in a hundred 
ways he was now put to work to increase the leisure, the wealth, and the 
power of man. The new lord of the earth began to replenish his food- 
supply by breeding as well as hunting; and perhaps he learned, in this same 
neolithic age, to use cow's milk as food. 

Neolithic inventors slowly improved and extended the tool-chest and 
armory of man. Here among the remains are pulleys, levers, grindstones, 
awls, pincers, axes, hoes, ladders, chisels, spindles, looms, sickles, saws, 
fish-hooks, skates, needles, brooches and pins. 85 Here, above all, is the 
wheel, another fundamental invention of mankind, one of the modest 
essentials of industry and civilization; already in this New Stone Age it 
was developed into disc and spoked varieties. Stones of every sort even 
obdurate diorite and obsidianwere ground, bored, and finished into a 
polished form. Flints were mined on a large scale. In the ruins of a neo- 
lithic mine at Brandon, England, eight worn picks of deerhorn were found, 
on whose dusty surfaces were the finger-prints of the workmen who had 
laid down those tools ten thousand years ago. In Belgium the skeleton of 
such a New Stone Age miner, who had been crushed by falling rock, was 
discovered with his deerhorn pick still clasped in his hands;" across a hun- 
dred centuries we feel him as one of us, and share in weak imagination his 
terror and agony. Through how many bitter millenniums men have been 
tearing out of the bowels of the earth the mineral bases of civilization! 

Having made needles and pins man began to weave; or, beginning to weave, 
he was moved to make needles and pins. No longer content to clothe himself 
with the furs and hides of beasts, he wove the wool of his sheep and the 
fibres found in the plants into garments from which came the robe of the 
Hindu, the toga of the Greek, the skirt of the Egyptian, and all the fascinat- 
ing gamut of human dress. Dyes were mixed from the juices of plants or the 
minerals of the earth, and garments were stained with colors into luxuries for 
kings. At first men seem to have plaited textiles as they plaited straw, by 
interlacing one fibre with another; then they pierced holes into animal 
skins, and bound the skins with coarse fibres passing through the holes, as 
with the corsets of yesterday and the shoes of today; gradually the fibres 


were refined into thread, and sewing became one of the major arts of woman- 
kind. The stone distaffs and spindles among the neolithic ruins reveal one of 
the great origins of human industry. Even mirrors are found in these re- 
mains;* 7 everything was ready for civilization. 

No pottery has been discovered in the earlier paleolithic graves; fragments 
of it appear in the remains of the Magdalenian culture in Belgium, 88 but it 
is only in the mesolithic Age of the Kitchen-Middens that we find any de- 
veloped use of earthenware. The origin of the art, of course, is unknown. 
Perhaps some observant primitive noticed that the trough made by his foot 
in clay held water with little seepage; 89 perhaps some accidental baking of a 
piece of wet clay by an adjoining fire gave him the hint that fertilized inven- 
tion, and revealed to him the possibilities of a material so abounding in quan- 
tity, so pliable to the hand, and so easy to harden with fire or the sun. Doubt- 
less he had for thousands of years carried his food and drink in such natural 
containers as gourds and coconuts and the shells of the sea; then he had made 
himself cups and ladles of wood or stone, and baskets and hampers of rushes 
or straw; now he made lasting vessels of baked clay, and created another of 
the major industries of mankind. So far as the remains indicate, neolithic 
man did not know the potter's wheel; but with his own hands he fashioned 
clay into forms of beauty as well as use, decorated it with simple designs, 40 
and made pottery, almost at the outset, not only an industry but an art. 

Here, too, we find the first evidences of another major industry building. 
Paleolithic man left no known trace of any other home than the cave. But 
in the neolithic remains we find such building devices as the ladder, the 
pulley, the lever, and the hinge.* 1 The Lake-Dwellers were skilful carpenters, 
fastening beam to pile with sturdy wooden pins, or mortising them head to 
head, or strengthening them with crossbeams notched into their sides. The 
floors were of clay, the walls of wattle-work coated with clay, the roofs of 
bark, straw, rushes or reeds. With the aid of the pulley and the wheel, 
building materials were carried from place to place, and great stone founda- 
tions were laid for villages. Transport, too, became an industry: canoes were 
built, and must have made the lakes live with traffic; trade was carried 
on over mountains and between distant continents. 42 Amber, diorite, jadeite 
and obsidian were imported into Europe from afar. 48 Similar words, letters, 
myths, pottery and designs betray the cultural contacts of diverse groups of 
prehistoric men. 44 

Outside of pottery the New Stone Age has left us no art, nothing to com- 
pare with the painting and statuary of paleolithic man. Here and there 
among the scenes of neolithic life from England to China we find circular 
heaps of stone called dolmens, upright monoliths called menhirs, and gigantic 


cromlechs stone structures of unknown purpose like those at Stonehenge 
or in Morbihan. Probably we shall never know the meaning or function of 
these megaliths; presumably they are the remains of altars and temples." For 
neolithic man doubtless had religions, myths with which to dramatize the 
daily tragedy and victory of the sun, the death and resurrection of the soil, 
and the strange earthly influences of the moon; we cannot understand the 
historic faiths unless we postulate such prehistoric origins. 46 Perhaps the 
arrangement of the stones was determined by astronomic considerations, and 
suggests, as Schneider thinks, an acquaintance with the calendar. 47 Some 
scientific knowledge was present, for certain neolithic skulls give evidence of 
trephining; and a few skeletons reveal limbs apparently broken and reset. 48 

We cannot properly estimate the achievements of prehistoric men, for 
we must guard against describing their life with imagination that tran- 
scends the evidence, while on the other hand we suspect that time has 
destroyed remains that would have narrowed the gap between primeval 
and modern man. Even so, the surviving record of Stone Age advances is 
impressive enough: paleolithic tools, fire, and art; neolithic agriculture, 
animal breeding, weaving, pottery, building, transport, and medicine, and 
the definite domination and wider peopling of the earth by the human 
race. All the bases had been laid; everything had been prepared for the 
historic civilizations except (perhaps) metals, writing and the state. Let 
men find a way to record their thoughts and achievements, and thereby 
transmit them more securely across the generations, and civilization would 


1. The Coming of Metals 
Copper Bronze Iron 

When did the use of metals come to man, and how? Again we do not 
know; we merely surmise that it came by accident, and we presume, from 
the absence of earlier remains, that it began towards the end of the Neolithic 
Age. Dating this end about 4000 B.C., we have a perspective in which the 
Age of Metals (and of writing and civilization) is a mere six thousand years 
appended to an Age of Stone lasting at least forty thousand years, and an 
Age of Man lasting* a million years. So young is the subject of our history. 

The oldest known metal to be adapted to human use was copper. We find 
it in a Lake-Dwelling at Robenhausen, Switzerland, ca. 6000 B.C.; 4 * in pre- 

* If we accept "Peking Man" as early Pleistocene. 


historic Mesopotamia ca. 4500 B.C.; in the Badarian graves of Egypt towards 
4000 B.C.; in the ruins of Ur ca. 3100 B.C.; and in the relics of the North 
American Mound-Builders at an unknown age. 80 The Age of Metals began 
not with their discovery, but with their transformation to human purpose by 
fire and working. Metallurgists believe that the first fusing of copper out 
of its stony ore came by haphazard when a primeval camp fire melted the 
copper lurking in the rocks that enclosed the flames; such an event has often 
been seen at primitive camp fires in our own day. Possibly this was the hint 
which, many times repeated, led early man, so long content with refractory 
stone, to seek in this malleable metal a substance more easily fashioned into 
durable weapons and tools. 61 Presumably the metal was first used as it came 
from the profuse but careless hand of nature sometimes nearly pure, most 
often grossly alloyed. Much later, doubtless apparently about 3500 B.C. in 
the region around the Eastern Mediterranean men discovered the art of 
smelting, of extracting metals from their ores. Then, towards 1500 B.C. (as 
we may judge from bas-reliefs on the tomb of Rekh-mara in Egypt), they 
proceeded to cast metal: dropping the molten copper into a clay or sand 
receptacle, they let it cool into some desired form like a spcar-hcad or an 
axe. M That process, once discovered, was applied to a great variety of metals, 
and provided man with those doughty elements that were to build his great- 
est industries, and give him his conquest of the earth, the sea, and the air. 
Perhaps it was because the Eastern Mediterranean lands were rich in copper 
that vigorous new cultures arose, in the fourth millennium B.C., in Elam, Meso- 
potamia and Egypt, and spread thence in all directions to transform the 
world. 58 

But copper by itself was soft, admirably pliable for some purposes (what 
would our electrified age do without it?), but too weak for the heavier tasks 
of peace and war; an alloy was needed to harden it. Though nature sug- 
gested many, and often gave man copper already mixed and hardened with 
tin or zinc forming, therefore, ready-made bronze or brass he may have 
dallied for centuries before taking the next step: the deliberate fusing of 
metal with metal to make compounds more suited to his needs. The dis- 
covery is at least five thousand years old, for bronze is found in Cretan re- 
mains of 3000 B.C., in Egyptian remains of 2800 B.C., and in the second city 
of Troy 2000 B.C. M We can no longer speak strictly of an "Age of Bronze," 
for the metal came to different peoples at diverse epochs, and the term 
would therefore be without chronological meaning;" furthermore, some cul- 
tureslike those of Finland, northern Russia, Polynesia, central Africa, south- 
ern India, North America, Australia and Japan passed over the Bronze Age 
directly from stone to iron;"" and in those cultures where bronze appears it 
seems to have had a subordinate place as a luxury of priests, aristocrats and 


kings, while commoners had still to be content with stone. 87 Even the terms 
"Old Stone Age" and "New Stone Age" are precariously relative, and de- 
scribe conditions rather than times; to this day many primitive peoples (e.g., 
the Eskimos and the Polynesian Islanders) remain in the Age of Stone, know- 
ing iron only as a delicacy brought to them by explorers. Captain Cook 
bought several pigs for a sixpenny nail when he landed in New Zealand in 
1778; and another traveler described the inhabitants of Dog Island as "covet- 
ous chiefly of iron, so as to want to take the nails out of the ship." 08 

Bronze is strong and durable, but the copper and tin which were needed 
to make it were not available in such convenient quantities and locations as 
to provide man with the best material for industry and war. Sooner or later 
iron had to come; and it is one of the anomalies of history that, being so 
abundant, it did not appear at least as early as copper and bronze. Men may 
have begun the art by making weapons out of meteoric iron as the Mound- 
Builders seem to have done, and as some primitive peoples do to this day; 
then, perhaps, they melted it from the ore by fire, and hammered it into 
wrought iron. Fragments of apparently meteoric iron have been found in 
predynastic Egyptian tombs; and Babylonian inscriptions mention iron as a 
costly rarity in Hammurabi's capital (2100 B.C.). An iron foundry perhaps 
four thousand years old has been discovered in Northern Rhodesia; mining in 
South Africa is no modern invention. The oldest wrought iron known is a 
group of knives found at Gerar, in Palestine, and dated by Petrie about 
1350 B.C. A century later the metal appears in Egypt, in the reign of the 
great Rameses II; still another century and it is found in the ^Egean. In 
Western Europe it turns up first at Hallstatt, Austria, ca. 900 B.C., and in 
the La Tine industry in Switzerland ca. 500 B.C. It entered India with Alex- 
ander, America with Columbus, Oceania with Cook. 80 In this leisurely way, 
century by century, iron has gone about its rough conquest of the earth. 

2. Writing 

Its possible ceramic origins The "Mediterranean Signary" 
Hieroglyphics Alphabets 

But by far the most important step in the passage to civilization was 
writing. Bits of pottery from neolithic remains show, in some cases, painted 
lines which several students have interpreted as signs. 80 This is doubtful 
enough; but it is possible that writing, in the broad sense of graphic sym- 
bols of specific thoughts, began with marks impressed by nails or fingers 
upon the still soft clay to adorn or identify pottery. In the earliest Sumer- 
ian hieroglyphics the pictograph for bird bears a suggestive resemblance 


to the bird decorations on the oldest pottery at Susa, in Elam; and the 
earliest pictograph for grain is taken directly from the geometrical grain- 
decoration of Susan and Sumerian vases. The linear script of Sumeria, on 
its first appearance (ca. 3600 B.C.), is apparently an abbreviated form of 
the signs and pictures painted or impressed upon the primitive pottery of 
lower Mesopotamia and Elam." * Writing, like painting and sculpture, is 
probably in its origin a ceramic art; it began as a form of etching and 
drawing, and the same clay that gave vases to the potter, figures to the 
sculptor and bricks to the builder, supplied writing materials to the scribe. 
From such a beginning to the cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia would 
be an intelligible and logical development. 

The oldest graphic symbols known to us are those found by Flinders 
Petrie on shards, vases and stones discovered in the prehistoric tombs of 
Egypt, Spain and the Near East, to which, with his usual generosity, he 
attributes an age of seven thousand years. This "Mediterranean Signary" 
numbered some three hundred signs; most of them were the same in all 
localities, indicating commercial bonds from one end of the Mediterranean to 
the other as far back as 5000 B.C. They were not pictures but chiefly mer- 
cantile symbols marks of property, quantity, or other business memoranda; 
the berated bourgeoisie may take consolation in the thought that literature 
originated in bills of lading. The signs were not letters, since they repre- 
sented entire words or ideas; but many of them were astonishingly like 
letters of the "Phoenician" alphabet. Petrie concludes that "a wide body of 
signs had been gradually brought into use in primitive times for various pur- 
poses. These were interchanged by trade, and spread from land to land, 
. . . until a couple of dozen signs triumphed and became common property 
to a group of trading communities, while the local survivals of other forms 
were gradually extinguished in isolated seclusion." 61 That this signary was the 
source of the alphabet is an interesting theory, which Professor Petrie has the 
distinction of holding alone." 

Whatever may have been the development of these early commercial 
symbols, there grew up alongside them a form of writing which was a 
branch of drawing and painting, and conveyed connected thought by 
pictures. Rocks near Lake Superior still bear remains of the crude pictures 
with which the American Indians proudly narrated for posterity, or more 
probably for their associates, the story of their crossing the mighty lake. 8 * 
A similar evolution of drawing into writing seems to have taken place 
throughout the Mediterranean world at the end of the Neolithic Age. 


Certainly by 3600 B.C., and probably long before that, Elam, Sumeria and 
Egypt had developed a system of thought-pictures, called hieroglyphics 
because practised chiefly by the priests. 04 A similar system appeared in 
Crete ca. 2500 B.C. We shall see later how these hieroglyphics, represent- 
ing thoughts, were, by the corruption of use, schematized and convention- 
alized into syllabaries i.e., collections of signs indicating syllables; and how 
at last signs were used to indicate not the whole syllable but its initial 
sound, and therefore became letters. Such alphabetic writing probably 
dates back to 3000 B.C. in Egypt; in Crete it appears ca. 1600 B.C." The 
Phoenicians did not create the alphabet, they marketed it; taking it appar- 
ently from Egypt and Crete, 00 they imported it piecemeal to Tyre, Sidon 
and Byblos, and exported it to every city on the Mediterranean; they were 
the middlemen, not the producers, of the alphabet. By the time of Homer 
the Greeks were taking over this Phoenician or the allied Aramaic alpha- 
bet, and were calling it by the Semitic names of the first two letters 
(Alpha, Beta; Hebrew Aleph, Beth). m 

Writing seems to be a product and convenience of commerce; here 
again culture may see how much it owes to trade. When the priests de- 
vised a system of pictures with which to write their magical, ceremonial 
and medical formulas, the secular and clerical strains in history, usually 
in conflict, merged for a moment to produce the greatest human invention 
since the coming of speech. The development of writing almost created 
civilization by providing a means for the recording and transmission of 
knowledge, the accumulation of science, the growth of literature, and the 
spread of peace and order among varied but communicating tribes brought 
by one language under a single state. The earliest appearance of writing 
marks that ever-receding point at which history begins. 

3. Lost Civilizations 
Polynesia "Atlantis" 

In approaching now the history of civilized nations we must note that 
not only shall we be selecting a mere fraction of each culture for our 
study, but we shall be describing perhaps a minority of the civilizations that 
have probably existed on the earth. We cannot entirely ignore the legends, 
current throughout history, of civilizations once great and cultured, de- 
stroyed by some catastrophe of nature or war, and leaving not a wrack 


behind; our recent exhuming of the civilizations of Crete, Sumeria and 
Yucatan indicates how true such tales may be. 

The Pacific contains the ruins of at least one of these lost civiliza- 
tions. The gigantic statuary of Easter Island, the Polynesian tradition of 
powerful nations and heroic warriors once ennobling Samoa and Tahiti, 
the artistic ability and poetic sensitivity of their present inhabitants, indi- 
cate a glory departed, a people not rising to civilization but fallen from 
a high estate. And in the Atlantic, from Iceland to the South Pole, the 
raised central bed of the oceans* lends some support to the legend so 
fascinatingly transmitted to us by Plato, 88 of a civilization that once flour- 
ished on an island continent between Europe and Asia, and was suddenly 
lost when a geological convulsion swallowed that continent into the sea. 
Schliemann, the resurrector of Troy, believed that Atlantis had served as 
a mediating link between the cultures of Europe and Yucatan, and that 
Egyptian civilization had been brought from Atlantis.* Perhaps America 
itself was Atlantis, and some pre-Mayan culture may have been in touch 
with Africa and Europe in neolithic times. Possibly every discovery is a 

Certainly it is probable, as Aristotle thought, that many civilizations 
came, made great inventions and luxuries, were destroyed, and lapsed from 
human memory. History, said Bacon, is the planks of a shipwreck; more 
of the past is lost than has been saved. We console ourselves with the 
thought that as the individual memory must forget the greater part of 
experience in order to be sane, so the race has preserved in its heritage 
only the most vivid and impressive- or is it only the best-recorded? of 
its cultural experiments. Even if that racial heritage were but one tenth 
as rich as it is, no one could possibly absorb it all. We shall find the story 
full enough. 

4. Cradles of Civilization 
Central Asia Anau Lines of Dispersion 

It is fitting that this chapter of unanswerable questions should end with 
the query, "Where did civilization begin?" which is also unanswerable. 
If we may trust the geologists, who deal with prehistoric mists as airy as 

* A submarine plateau, from 2000 to 3000 metres below the surface, runs north and 
south through the mid-Atlantic, surrounded on both sides by "deeps" of 5000 to 6000 


any metaphysics, the arid regions of central Asia were once moist and tem- 
perate, nourished with great lakes and abundant streams. 70 The recession 
of the last ice wave slowly dried up this area, until the rainfall was insuffi- 
cient to support towns and states. City after city was abandoned as men 
fled west and east, north and south, in search of water; half buried in the 
desert lie ruined cities like Bactra, which must have held a teeming popu- 
lation within its twenty-two miles of circumference. As late as 1868 some 
80,000 inhabitants of western Turkestan were forced to migrate because 
their district was being inundated by the moving sand. 71 There are many 
who believe that these now dying regions saw the first substantial develop- 
ment of that vague complex of order and provision, manners and morals, 
comfort and culture, which constitutes civilization. 71 

In 1907 Pumpelly unearthed at Anau, in southern Turkestan, pottery 
and other remains of a culture which he has ascribed to 9000 B.C., with a 
possible exaggeration of four thousand years. 78 Here we find the cultiva- 
tion of wheat, barley and millet, the use of copper, the domestication of 
animals, and the ornamentation of pottery in styles so conventionalized as 
to suggest an artistic background and tradition of many centuries. 74 Ap- 
parently the culture of Turkestan was already very old in 5000 B.C. Per- 
haps it had historians who delved into its past in a vain search for the 
origins of civilization, and philosophers who eloquently mourned the de- 
generation of a dying race. 

From this center, if we may imagine where we cannot know, a people 
driven by a rainless sky and betrayed by a desiccated earth migrated in 
three directions, bringing their arts and civilization with them. The arts, if 
not the race, reached eastward to China, Manchuria and North America; 
southward to northern India; westward to Elam, Sumeria, Egypt, even to 
Italy and Spain." At Susa, in ancient Elam (modern Persia), remains have 
been found so similar in type to those at Anau that the re-creative imagina- 
tion is almost justified in presuming cultural communication between Susa 
and Anau at the dawn of civilization (ca. 4000 B.C.). 70 A like kinship of 
early arts and products suggests a like relationship and continuity be- 
tween prehistoric Mesopotamia and Egypt. 

We cannot be sure which of these cultures came first, and it does not 
much matter; they were in essence of one family and one type. If we 
violate honored precedents here and place Elam and Sumeria before Egypt, 
it is from no vainglory of unconventional innovation, but rather because 


the age of these Asiatic civilizations, compared with those of Africa and 
Europe, grows as our knowledge of them deepens. As the spades of 
archeology, after a century of victorious inquiry along the Nile, pass 
across Suez into Arabia, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Persia, it becomes 
more probable with every year of accumulating research that it was the 
rich delta of Mesopotamia's rivers that saw the earliest known scenes in 
the historic drama of civilization. 



"At that time the gods called me, Hammurabi, the 
servant whose deeds arc pleasing, .... who helped 
his people in time of need, who brought about plenty 
and abundance, .... to prevent the strong from op- 
pressing the weak, .... to enlighten the land and 
further the welfare of the people." 

Code of Hammurabi, Prologue. 


B. c . EGYPT 

18000: Nile Paleolithic Culture 
i oooo : Nile Neolithic Culture 
5000: Nile Bronze Culture 
4241: Egyptian Calendar appears (?) 
4000: Badarian Culture 

3500-2631: A. THE OLD KINGDOM; 

3500-3100: I-III Dynasties 

3100-2965: IV Dynasty: the Pyramids 

3098-3075: Khufu ("Cheops" of Herodotus) 

3067-3011: Khafrc ("Chcphren") 

3011-2988: Alenkaure ("Alycerinus") 

2965-2631: V-VI Dynasties 

2738-2644: Pepi II (longest reign known) 
The Feudal Age 










40000: Paleolithic Culture in Palestine 
9000: Bronze Culture in Turkestan 
4500: Civilization in Susa and Kish 
3800: Civilization in Crete 
3638: III Dynasty of Kish 
3600: Civilization in Sumeria 
3200: Dynasty of Akshak in Sumeria 
3100: Ur-nina, first (?) King of Lagash 
3089: IV Dynasty of Kish 
2903: King Urukagina reforms Lagash 
2897: Lugal-zaggisi conquers Lagash 
2872-2817: Sargon I unites Sumcria & 

2795-2739: Narnm-sin, King of Sumeria & 


2600 Gudca King of Lagash 
2474-2398: Golden Age of Ur; ist code of 


2357 Sack of Ur by the Elamites 
2169-1926: 1 Babylonian Dynasty 
2123-2081: Hammurabi King of Babylon 
2117-2094: Hammurabi conquers Sumeria & 

El am 
1926-1703 II Babylonian Dynasty 

1900 I littitc Civilization appears 
iSoo: Civilization in Palestine 
1746-1169: Kassitc Domination in Babylonia 
1716 Rise of Assyria under Shamshi- 

Adad II 

1650-1220: Jewish Bondage in Egypt (?) 
1600-1360: Egyptian Domination of Pales- 
tine & Syria 

1550: The Civilization of Mitanni 
1461: Burra-Buriash I King of Baby- 

: Age of the Tell-el-Amarna Correspondence; Revolt of Western Asia against Egypt 
A ,! _ I\T /TI.I .. \ 1276: Shalmaneser I unifies Assyria 

1200: Conquest of Canaan by the Jews 
1115-1102: Tiglath-Pilcscr I extends Assyria 
1025-1010: Saul King of the Jews 
1010-974: David King of the Jews 
1000-600: Golden Age of Phoenicia & 

974-937: Solomon King of the Jews 

937: Schism of the Jews: Judah & 

884-859: Ashurnasirpal II King of Assyria 


XII Dynasty 
Amenemhct I 
Senusret ("Sesostris") I 
Senusret III 

Amencmhet III 

The Hyksos Domination 


XVIII Dynasty 
Thutmosc I 

Thutmose II 
Queen Hatshepsut 

Thutmose III 
Amenhotep III 

Amenhotcp IV (Ikhnaton) 

XIX Dynasty 
Seti I 

Ramescs II 
Seti II 

XX Dynasty: the Ramessid Kings 
Ramescs III 

XXI Dynasty: the Libyan Kings 

* All dates are B.C., and are approximate before 663 B.C. In the case of rulers the dates 
are of their reignb, not of their lives. 




947-720: XXII Dynasty: the Bubastite 


947-925: Sheshonk I 
925-889: Osorkon I 
880-850: Osorkon II 
850-825: Sheshonk II 
821-769: Sheshonk HI 
763-725: Sheshonk IV 
850-745: XXIII Dynasty: The Theban 

725-663: XXIV Dynasty: The Memphitc 

745-663: XXV Dynasty: The Ethiopian 

689-663: Taharka 

685: Commercial Revival of Egypt 
674-650: Assyrian Occupation of Egypt 
663-525: XXVI Dynasty: the Sai'te Kings 
663-609: Psamtik ("Psammctichos") I 
663-525: Saite Revival of Egyptian Art 

615: Jews begin to colonize Egypt 
609-593: Niku ("Necho") II 

605: Niku begins the Hellenization 
of Egypt 

593-588: Psamtik II 


859-824: Shalmaneser III King of Assyria 
811-808: Sammuramat ("Semiramis") in 

785-700: Golden Age of Armenia 


745-727: Tiglath-Pileser HI 
732-722: Assyria takes Damascus & 

722-705: Sargon II King of Assyria 

709: Dcioces King of the Medes 
705-681: Sennacherib King of Assyria 
702: The First Isaiah 
689: Sennacherib sacks Babylon 
681-669: Esarhaddon King of Assyria 
669-626: Ashurbanipal ("Sardanapalus") 

King of Assyria 
660-583: Zarathustra ("Zoroaster")? 

652: Gygcs King of Lydia 
640-584: Cyaxares King of the Medes 
639: Fall of Susa; end of Elam 
639: Josiah King of the Jews 
625: Nabopolassar restores independ- 
ence of Babylon 

621: Beginnings of the Pentateuch 
612: Fall of Nineveh; end of Assyria 
610-561: Alyattes King of Lydia 
605-562: Nebuchadrezzar II King of 

600: Jeremiah at Jerusalem; coinage 

in Lydia 

597-586: Nebuchadrezzar takes Jerusalem 
586-538: Jewish Captivity in Babylon 





569-526: Ahmose ("Amasis") II 

568-567: Nebuchadrezzar II invades Egypt 

560: Growing Influence of Greece in 

526-525: Psamtik III 

525: Persian Conquest of Egypt 

485: Revolt of Egypt against Persia 
484: Reconqucst of Egypt by Xerxes 
482: Egypt joins with Persia in war 

against Greece 
455: Failure of Athenian Expedition 

to Egypt 

332: Greek Conquest of Egypt; 
foundation of Alexandria 
283-30: The Ptolemaic Kings 

30: Egypt absorbed into the Roman 


580: Ezekiel in Babylon 
570-546: Croesus King of Lydia 
555-529: Cyrus I King of the Medes & the 


546: Cyrus takes Sardis 
540: The Second Isaiah 
539: Cyrus takes Babylon & creates 

the Persian Empire 
529-522: Cambyses King of Persia 
521-485: Darius I King of Persia 

520: Building of 2nd Temple at Jeru- 

490: Battle of Marathon 
485-464: Xerxes I King of Persia 

480: Battle of Salamis 
464-423: Artaxcrxcs I King of Persia 
450: The Book of Job (?) 
444: Ezra at Jerusalem 
423-404: Darius II King of Persia 
404-359: Artaxerxes II King of Persia 
401: Cyrus the Younger defeated at 


359-338: Ochus King of Persia 
338-330: Darius III King of Persia 

334: Battle of the Granicus; Alex- 
ander enters Jerusalem 
333: Battle of Issus 
331: Alexander takes Babylon 
330: Battle of Arbela; the Near East 
becomes part of Alexander's 



Orient-ation Contributions of the Near East to Western 

WRITTEN history is at least six thousand years old. During half of 
this period the center of human affairs, so far as they are now known 
to us, was in the Near East. By this vague term we shall mean here all 
southwestern Asia south of Russia and the Black Sea, and west of India 
and Afghanistan; still more loosely, we shall include within it Egypt, too, 
as anciently bound up with the Near East in one vast web and communicat- 
ing complex of Oriental civilization. In this rough theatre of teeming 
peoples and conflicting cultures were developed the agriculture and com- 
merce, the horse and wagon, the coinage and letters of credit, the crafts 
and industries, the law and government, the mathematics and medicine, 
the enemas and drainage systems, the geometry and astronomy, the calen- 
dar and clock and zodiac, the alphabet and writing, the paper and ink, the 
books and libraries and schools, the literature and music, the sculpture and 
architecture, the glazed pottery and fine furniture, the monotheism and 
monogamy, the cosmetics and jewelry, the checkers and dice, the ten-pins 
and income-tax, the wet-nurses and beer, from which our own European 
and American culture derive by a continuous succession through the medi- 
ation of Crete and Greece and Rome. The "Aryans" did not establish 
civilizationthey took it from Babylonia and Egypt. Greece did not begin 
civilization it inherited far more civilization than it began; it was the 
spoiled heir of three millenniums of arts and sciences brought to its cities 
from the Near East by the fortunes of trade and war. In studying and 
honoring the Near East we shall be acknowledging a debt long due to 
the real founders of European and American civilization. 




The culture of Susa The potter's wheel The wagon-wheel 

If the reader will look at a map of Persia, and will run his finger north 
along the Tigris from the Persian Gulf to Amara, and then east across the 
Iraq border to the modern town of Shushan, he will have located the site 
of the ancient city of Susa, center of a region known to the Jews as Elam 
the high land. In this narrow territory, protected on the west by marshes, 
and on the east by the mountains that shoulder the great Iranian Plateau, 
a people of unknown race and origin developed one of the first historic 
civilizations. Here, a generation ago, French archeologists found human 
remains dating back 20,000 years, and evidences of an advanced culture 
as old as 4500 B.C.* 1 

Apparently the Elamites had recently emerged from a nomad life of 
hunting and fishing; but already they had copper weapons and tools, cul- 
tivated grains and domesticated animals, hieroglyphic writing and business 
documents, mirrors and jewelry, and a trade that reached from Egypt to 
India. 8 In the midst of chipped flints that bring us back to the Neolithic 
Age we find finished vases elegantly rounded and delicately painted with 
geometric designs, or with picturesque representations of animals and 
plants; some of this pottery is ranked among the finest ever made by 
man. 4 Here is the oldest appearance not only of the potter's wheel but of 
the wagon wheel; this modest but vital vehicle of civilization is found only 
later in Babylonia, and still later in Egypt. 6 From these already complex 
beginnings the Elamites rose to troubled power, conquering Sumeria 
and Babylon, and being conquered by them, turn by turn. The city of 
Susa survived six thousand years of history, lived through the imperial 
zeniths of Sumeria, Babylonia, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome, 
and flourished, under the name of Shushan, as late as the fourteenth 
century of our era. At various times it grew to great wealth; when 
Ashurbanipal captured and sacked it (646 B.C.) his historians recounted 
without understatement the varied booty of gold and silver, precious 
stones and royal ornaments, costly garments and regal furniture, cosmetics 
and chariots, which the conqueror brought in his train to Nineveh. His- 
tory so soon began its tragic alternance of art and war. 

* Professor Breasted believes that the antiquity of this culture, and that of Anau, has 
been exaggerated by DC Morgan, Pumpelly and other students. 2 



1. The Historical Background 

The exhuming of Sumeria Geography Race Appearance 

The Sumerian Flood The kings An ancient reformer 

-Sargon of Akkad-The Golden Age of Ur 

If we return to our map and follow the combined Tigris and Euphrates 
from the Persian Gulf to where these historic streams diverge (at mod- 
ern Kurna), and then follow the Euphrates westward, we shall find, north 
and south of it, the buried cities of ancient Sumeria: Eridu (now Abu 
Shahrein), Ur (now Mukayyar), Uruk (Biblical Erech, now Warka), 
Larsa (Biblical Ellasar, now Senkereh), Lagash (now Shippurla), Nippur 
(Niffer) and Nisin. Follow the Euphrates northwest to Babylon, once the 
most famous city of Mesopotamia (the land "between the rivers"); ob- 
serve, directly east of it, Kish, site of the oldest culture known in this 
region; then pass some sixty miles farther up the Euphrates to Agade, cap- 
ital, in ancient days, of the Kingdom of Akkad. The early history of 
Mesopotamia is in one aspect the struggle of the non-Semitic peoples of 
Sumeria to preserve their independence against the expansion and inroads 
of the Semites from Kish and Agade and other centers in the north. In 
the midst of their struggles these varied stocks unconsciously, perhaps 
unwillingly, cooperated to produce the first extensive civilization known 
to history, and one of the most creative and unique.* 

Despite much research we cannot tell of what race the Sumerians were, 
nor by what route they entered Sumeria. Perhaps they came from central 

*The unearthing of this forgotten culture is one of the romances of archeology. To 
those whom, with a poor sense of the amplitude of time, we call "the ancients" that is, 
to the Romans, the Greeks and the Jews Sumeria was unknown. Herodotus apparently 
never heard of it; if he did, he ignored it, as something more ancient to him than he to 
us. Bcrosus, a Babylonian historian writing about 250 B.C., knew of Sumeria only through 
the veil of a legend. He described a race of monsters, led by one Oannes, coming out of 
the Persian Gulf, and introducing the arts of agriculture, metal-working, and writing; "all 
the things that make for the amelioration of life," he declares, "were bequeathed to men 
by Oannes, and since that time no further inventions have been made." 8 Not till two 
thousand years after Bcrosus was Sumeria rediscovered. In 1850 Hincks recognized that 
cuneiform writing made by pressing a wedge-pointed stylus upon soft clay, and used in 
the Semitic languages of the Near East-had been borrowed from an earlier people with a 
largely non-Semitic speech; and Oppert gave to this hypothetical people the name 


Asia, or the Caucasus, or Armenia, and moved through northern Mesopo- 
tamia down the Euphrates and the Tigris along which, as at Ashur, evidences 
of their earliest culture have been found; perhaps, as the legend says, they 
sailed in from the Persian Gulf, from Egypt or elsewhere, and slowly made 
their way up the great rivers; perhaps they came from Susa, among whose 
relics is an asphalt head bearing all the characteristics of the Sumerian type; 
perhaps, even, they were of remote Mongolian origin, for there is much in 
their language that resembles the Mongol speech." We do not know. 

The remains show them as a short and stocky people, with high, straight, 
non-Semitic nose, slightly receding forehead and downward-sloping eyes. 
Many wore beards, some were clean-shaven, most of them shaved the upper 
lip. They clothed themselves in fleece and finely woven wool; the women 
draped the garment from the left shoulder, the men bound it at the waist 
and left the upper half of the body bare. Later the male dress crept up 
towards the neck with the advance of civilization, but servants, male and 
female, while indoors, continued to go naked from head to waist. The head 
was usually covered with a cap, and the feet were shod with sandals; but 
well-to-do women had shoes of soft leather, heel-less, and laced like our 
own. Bracelets, necklaces, anklets, finger-rings and ear-rings made the women 
of Sumeria, as recently in America, show-windows of their husbands' pros- 
perity. 10 

When their civilization was already old about 2300 B.C. the poets and 
scholars of Sumeria tried to reconstruct its ancient history. The poets wrote 
legends of a creation, a primitive Paradise and a terrible flood that engulfed 
and destroyed it because of the sin of an ancient king. 11 This flood passed 
down into Babylonian and Hebrew tradition, and became part of the Chris- 
tian creed. In 1929 Professor Woolley, digging into the ruins of Ur, dis- 
covered, at considerable depth, an eight-foot layer of silt and clay; this, if 
we are to believe him, was deposited during a catastrophic overflow of the 

"Sumerian." 7 About the same time Rawlinson and his aides found, among Babylonian ruins, 
tablets containing vocabularies of this ancient tongue, with interlinear translations, in 
modern college style, from the older language into Babylonian. 8 In 1854 two Englishmen 
uncovered the sites of Ur, Eridu and Uruk; at the end of the nineteenth century French 
explorers revealed the remains of Lagash, including tablets recording the history of the 
Sumerian kings; and in our own time Professor Woolley of the University of Pennsyl- 
vania, and many others, have exhumed the primeval city of Ur, where the Sumerians 
appear to have reached civilization by 4500 B.C. So the students of many nations have 
worked together on this chapter of that endless mystery story in which the detectives are 
archeologists and the prey is historic truth. Nevertheless, there has been as yet only a 
beginning of research in Sumeria; there is no telling what vistas of civilization and history 
will be opened up when the ground has been worked, and the mateml studied, as men 
have worked and studied in Egypt during the last one hundred years. 


Euphrates, which lingered in later memory as the Flood. Beneath that layer 
were the remains of a prediluvian culture that would later be pictured by 
the poets as a Golden Age. 

Meanwhile the priest-historians sought to create a past spacious enough for 
the development of all the marvels of Sumerian civilization. They formu- 
lated lists of their ancient kings, extending the dynasties before the Flood to 
432,000 years-," and told such impressive stories of two of these rulers, 
Tammuz and Gilgamesh, that the latter became the hero of the greatest poem 
in Babylonian literature, and Tammuz passed down into the pantheon of 
Babylon and became the Adonis of the Greeks. Perhaps the priests ex- 
aggerated a little the antiquity of their civilization. We may vaguely judge 
the age of Sumerian culture by observing that the ruins of Nippur are 
found to a depth of sixty-six feet, of which almost as many feet extend 
below the remains of Sargon of Akkad as rise above it to the topmost 
stratum (ca. i A.D.);" on this basis Nippur would go back to 5262 B.C. Ten- 
acious dynasties of city-kings seem to have flourished at Kish ca. 4500 B.C., 
and at Ur ca. 3500 B.C. In the competition of these two primeval centers 
we have the first form of that opposition between Semite and non-Semite 
which was to be one bloody theme of Near-Eastern history from the 
Semitic ascendancy of Kish and the conquests of the Semitic kings Sargon I 
and Hammurabi, through the capture of Babylon by the "Aryan" generals 
Cyrus and Alexander in the sixth and fourth centuries before Christ, and the 
conflicts of Crusaders and Saracens for the Holy Sepulchre and the emolu- 
ments of trade, down to the efforts of the British Government to dominate 
and pacify the divided Semites of the Near East today. 

From 3000 B.C. onward the clay-tablet records kept by the priests, and 
found in the ruins of Ur, present a reasonably accurate account of the ac- 
cessions and coronations, uninterrupted victories and sublime deaths of the 
petty kings who ruled the city-states of Ur, Lagash, Uruk, and the rest; the 
writing of history and the partiality of historians are very ancient things. 
One king, Urukagina of Lagash, was a royal reformer, an enlightened 
despot who issued decrees aimed at the exploitation of the poor by the 
rich, and of everybody by the priests. The high priest, says one edict, must 
no longer "come into the garden of a poor mother and take wood there- 
from, nor gather tax in fruit therefrom"; burial-fees were to be cut to 
one-fifth of what they had been; and the clergy and high officials were 
forbidden to share among themselves the revenues and cattle offered to 
the gods. It was the King's boast that he "gave liberty to his people"; 14 


and surely the tablets that preserve his decrees reveal to us the oldest, 
briefest and justest code of laws in history. 

This lucid interval was ended normally by one Lugal-zaggisi, who 
invaded Lagash, overthrew Urukagina, and sacked the city at the height 
of its prosperity. The temples were destroyed, the citizens were mas- 
sacred in the streets, and the statues of the gods were led away in ignomin- 
ious bondage. One of the earliest poems in existence is a clay tablet, 
apparently 4800 years old, on which the Sumerian poet Dingiraddamu 
mourns for the raped goddess of Lagash: 

For the city, alas, the treasures, my soul doth sigh, 

For my city Girsu (Lagash), alas, the treasures, my soul doth sigh. 

In holy Girsu the children are in distress. 

Into the interior of the splendid shrine he (the invader) pressed; 

The august Queen from her temple he brought forth. 

O Lady of my city, desolated, when wilt thou return?" 

We pass by the bloody Lugal-zaggisi, and other Sumerian kings of 
mighty name: Lugal-shagengur, Lugal-kigub-nidudu, Ninigi-dubti, Lugal- 
andanukhunga. . . . Meanwhile another people, of Semitic race, had built 
the kingdom of Akkad under the leadership of Sargon I, and had estab- 
lished its capital at Agade some two hundred miles northwest of the 
Sumerian city-states. A monolith found at Susa portrays Sargon armed 
with the dignity of a majestic beard, and dressed in all the pride of long 
authority. His origin was not royal: history could find no father for him, 
and no other mother than a temple prostitute. 18 Sumerian legend composed 
for him an autobiography quite Mosaic in its beginning: "My humble 
mother conceived me; in secret she brought me forth. She placed me in 
a basket-boat of rushes; with pitch she closed my door." 17 Rescued by a 
workman, he became a cup-bearer to the king, grew in favor and influence, 
rebelled, displaced his master, and mounted the throne of Agade. He 
called himself "King of Universal Dominion," and ruled a small portion 
of Mesopotamia. Historians call him "the Great," for he invaded many 
cities, captured much booty, and killed many men. Among his victims 
was that same Lugal-zaggisi who had despoiled Lagash and violated its 
goddess; him Sargon defeated and carried off to Nippur in chains. East 
and west, north and south the mighty warrior marched, conquering Elam, 
washing his weapons in symbolic triumph in the Persian Gulf, crossing 


western Asia, reaching the Mediterranean, 18 and establishing the first great 
empire in history. For fifty-five years he held sway, while legends gath- 
ered about him and prepared to make him a god. His reign closed with 
all his empire in revolt. 

Three sons succeeded him in turn. The third, Naram-sin, was a mighty 
builder, of whose works nothing remains but a lovely stele, or memorial 
slab, recording his victory over an obscure king. This powerful relief, 
found by De Morgan at Susa in 1897, and now a treasure of the Louvre, 
shows a muscular Naram-sin armed with bow and dart, stepping with 
royal dignity upon the bodies of his fallen foes, and apparently prepared 
to answer with quick death the appeal of the vanquished for mercy; while 
between them another victim, pierced through the neck with an arrow, 
falls dying. Behind them tower the Zagros Mountains; and on one hill 
is the record, in elegant cuneiform, of Naram-sin's victory. Here the art 
of carving is already adult and confident, already guided and strengthened 
with a long tradition. 

To be burned to the ground is not always a lasting misfortune for a 
city; it is usually an advantage from the standpoint of architecture and 
sanitation. By the twenty-sixth century B.C. we find Lagash flourishing 
again, now under another enlightened monarch, Gudea, whose stocky 
statues are the most prominent remains of Sumerian sculpture. The diorite 
figure in the Louvre shows him in a pious posture, with his head crossed 
by a heavy band resembling a model of the Colosseum, hands folded in 
his lap, bare shoulders and feet, and short, chubby legs covered by a bell- 
like skirt embroidered with a volume of hieroglyphics. The strong but 
regular features reveal a man thoughtful and just, firm and yet refined. 
Gudea was honored by his people not as a warrior but as a Sumerian 
Aurelius, devoted to religion, literature and good works; he built temples, 
promoted the study of classical antiquities in the spirit of the expeditions 
that unearthed him, and tempered the strength of the strong in mercy 
to the weak. One of his inscriptions reveals the policy for which his people 
worshiped him, after his death, as a god: "During seven years the maid- 
servant was the equal of her mistress, the slave walked beside his master, 
and in my town the weak rested by the side of the strong." 10 

Meanwhile "Ur of the Chaldees" was having one of the most pros- 
perous epochs in its long career from 3,500 B.C. (the apparent age of its 
oldest graves) to 700 B.C. Its greatest king, Ur-engur, brought all 


western Asia under his pacific sway, and proclaimed for all Sumeria the 
first extensive code of laws in history. "By the laws of righteousness of 
Shamash forever I established justice." 80 As Ur grew rich by the trade that 
flowed through it on the Euphrates, Ur-engur, like Pericles, beautified 
his city with temples, and built lavishly in the subject cities of Larsa, Uruk 
and Nippur. His son Dungi continued his work through a reign of fifty- 
eight years, and ruled so wisely that the people deified him as the god 
who had brought back their ancient Paradise. 

But soon that glory faded. The warlike Elamites from the East and 
the rising Amorites from the West swept down upon the leisure, pros- 
perity and peace of Ur, captured its king, and sacked the city with primi- 
tive thoroughness. The poets of Ur sang sad chants about the rape of 
the statue of Ishtar, their beloved mother-goddess, torn from her shrine 
by profane invaders. The form of these poems is unexpectedly first- 
personal, and the style does not please the sophisticated ear; but across 
the four thousand years that separate us from the Sumerian singer we 
feel the desolation of his city and his people. 

Me the foe hath ravished, yea, with hands unwashed; 

Me his hands have ravished, made me die of terror. 

Oh, I am wretched! Naught of reverence hath he! 

Stripped me of my robes, and clothed therein his consort, 

Tore my jewels from me, therewith decked his daughter. 

(Now) I tread his courts my very person sought he 

In the shrines. Alas, the day when to go forth I trembled. 

He pursued me in my temple; he made me quake with fear, 

There within my walls; and like a dove that fluttering percheth 

On a rafter, like a flitting owlet in a cavern hidden, 

Birdlike from my shrine he chased me, 

From my city like a bird he chased me, me sighing, 

"Far behind, behind me is my temple." 11 

So for two hundred years, which to our self-centered eyes seem but 
an empty moment, Elam and Amor ruled Sumeria. Then from the north 
came the great Hammurabi, King of Babylon; retook from the Elamites 
Uruk and Isin; bided his time for twenty-three years; invaded Elam and 
captured its king; established his sway over Amor and distant Assyria, 
built an empire of unprecedented power, and disciplined it with a universal 


law. For many centuries now, until the rise of Persia, the Semites would 
rule the Land between the Rivers. Of the Sumerians nothing more is 
heard; their little chapter in the book of history was complete. 

2. Economic Life 
The soil Industry Trade Classes Science 

But Sumerian civilization remained. Sumer and Akkad still produced 
handicraftsmen, poets, artists, sages and saints; the culture of the southern 
cities passed north along the Euphrates and the Tigris to Babylonia and 
Assyria as the initial heritage of Mesopotamian civilization. 

At the basis of this culture was a soil made fertile by the annual over- 
flow of rivers swollen with the winter rains. The overflow was perilous 
as well as useful; the Sumerians learned to channel it safely through irri- 
gating canals that ribbed and crossed their land; and they commemorated 
those early dangers by legends that told of a flood, and how at last the 
land had been separated from the waters, and mankind had been saved. 38 
This irrigation system, dating from 4000 B.C., was one of the great achieve- 
ments of Sumerian civilization, and certainly its foundation. Out of these 
carefully watered fields came abounding crops of corn, barley, spelt, 
dates, and many vegetables. The plough appeared early, drawn by oxen 
as even with us until yesterday, and already furnished with a tubular seed- 
drill. The gathered harvest was threshed by drawing over it great sledges 
of wood armed with flint teeth that cut the straw for the cattle and 
released the grain for men. 84 

It was in many ways a primitive culture. The Sumerians made some 
use of copper and tin, and occasionally mixed them to produce bronze; 
now and then they went so far as to make large implements of iron.* 
But metal was still a luxury and a rarity. Most Sumerian tools were of 
flint; some, like the sickles for cutting the barley, were of clay; and cer- 
tain finer articles, such as needles and awls, used ivory and bone. 98 Weav- 
ing was done on a large scale under the supervision of overseers appointed 
by the king,* 7 after the latest fashion of governmentally controlled industry. 
Houses were made of reeds, usually plastered with an adobe mixture of 
clay and straw moistened with water and hardened by the sun; such dwell- 
ings are still easy to find in what was once Sumeria. The hut had wooden 
doors, revolving upon socket hinges of stone. The floors were ordinarily 


the beaten earth; the roofs were arched by bending the reeds together 
at the top, or were made flat with mud-covered reeds stretched over 
crossbeams of wood. Cows, sheep, goats and pigs roamed about the 
dwelling in primeval comradeship with man. Water for drinking was 
drawn from wells. 28 

Goods were carried chiefly by water. Since stone was rare in Sumeria 
it was brought up the Gulf or down the rivers, and then through numerous 
canals to the quays of the cities. But land transportation was developing; 
at Kish the Oxford Field Expedition unearthed some of the oldest wheeled 
vehicles known." Here and there in the ruins are business seals bearing 
indications of traffic with Egypt and India. 80 There was no coinage yet, 
and trade was normally by barter; but gold and silver were already in use 
as standards of value, and were often accepted in exchange for goods 
sometimes in the form of ingots and rings of definite worth, but generally 
in quantities measured by weight in each transaction. Many of the clay 
tablets that have brought down to us fragments of Sumerian writing are 
business documents, revealing a busy commercial life. One tablet speaks, 
with fin-de-siecle weariness, of "the city, where the tumult of man is." 
Contracts had to be confirmed in writing and duly witnessed. A system 
of credit existed by which goods, gold or silver might be borrowed, interest 
to be paid in the same material as the loan, and at rates ranging from 15 
to 33% per annum. 31 Since the stability of a society may be partly mea- 
sured by inverse relation with the rate of interest, we may suspect that 
Sumerian business, like ours, lived in an atmosphere of economic and po- 
litical uncertainty and doubt. 

Gold and silver have been found abundantly in the tombs, not only 
as jewelry, but as vessels, weapons, ornaments, even as tools. Rich and 
poor were stratified into many classes and gradations; slavery was highly 
developed, and property rights were already sacred. 81 Between the rich 
and the poor a middle class took form, composed of small-business men, 
scholars, physicians and priests. Medicine flourished, and had a specific 
for every disease; but it was still bound up with theology, and admitted 
that sickness, being due to possession by evil spirits, could never be cured 
without the exorcising of these demons. A calendar of uncertain age and 
origin divided the year into lunar months, adding a month every three or 
four years to reconcile the calendar with the seasons and the sun. Each 
city gave its own names to the months. 88 


3. Government 
The kings Ways of war The feudal barons Law 

Indeed each city, as long as it could, maintained a jealous independence, 
and indulged itself in a private king. It called him patesi, or priest-king, 
indicating by the very word that government was bound up with religion. 
By 2800 B.C. the growth of trade made such municipal separatism im- 
possible, and generated "empires" in which some dominating personality 
subjected the cities and their patesis to his power, and wove them into 
an economic and political unity. The despot lived in a Renaissance atmos- 
phere of violence and fear; at any moment he might be despatched by 
the same methods that had secured him the throne. He dwelt in an in- 
accessible palace, whose two entrances were so narrow as to admit only 
one person at a time; to the right and left were recesses from which secret 
guards could examine every visitor, or pounce upon him with daggers. 84 
Even the king's temple was private, hidden away in his palace, so that he 
might perform his religious duties without exposure, or neglect them 

The king went to battle in a chariot, leading a motley host armed with 
bows, arrows and spears. The wars were waged frankly for commercial 
routes and goods, without catchwords as a sop for idealists. King Manish- 
tusu of Akkad announced frankly that he was invading Elam to get control 
of its silver mines, and to secure diorite stone to immortalize himself with 
statuary the only instance known of a war fought for the sake of art. 
The defeated were customarily sold into slavery; or, if this was unprofit- 
able, they were slaughtered on the battlefield. Sometimes a tenth of the 
prisoners, struggling vainly in a net, were offered as living victims to the 
thirsty gods. As in Renaissance Italy, the chauvinistic separatism of the 
cities stimulated life and art, but led to civic violence and suicidal strife 
that weakened each petty state, and at last destroyed Sumeria. 88 

In the empires social order was maintained through a feudal system. 
After a successful war the ruler gave tracts of land to his valiant chieftains, 
and exempted such estates from taxation; these men kept order in their 
territories, and provided soldiers and supplies for the exploits of the king. 
The finances of the government were obtained by taxes in kind, stored 
in royal warehouses, and distributed as pay to officials and employees of 
the state.* 8 


To this system of royal and feudal administration was added a body of 
law, already rich with precedents when Ur-engur and Dungi codified the 
statutes of Ur; this was the fountainhead of Hammurabi's famous code. 
It was cruder and simpler than later legislation, but less severe: where, for 
example, the Semitic code killed a woman for adultery, the Sumerian code 
merely allowed the husband to take a second wife, and reduce the first 
to a subordinate position." The law covered commercial as well as sexual 
relations, and regulated all loans and contracts, all buying and selling, all 
adoptions and bequests. Courts of justice sat in the temples, and the judges 
were for the most part priests; professional judges presided over a superior 
court. The best element in this code was a plan for avoiding litigation: 
every case was first submitted to a public arbitrator whose duty it was 
to bring about an amicable settlement without recourse to law. 88 It is a poor 
civilization from which we may not learn something to improve our own. 

4. Religion and Morality 

The Sumerian Pantheon The food of the gods Mythology 

Education A Sumerian prayer Temple prostitutes The 

rights of woman Sumerian cos-metics 

King Ur-engur proclaimed his code of laws in the name of the great 
god Shamash, for government had so soon discovered the political utility 
of heaven. Having been found useful, the gods became innumerable; 
every city and state, every human activity, had some inspiring and dis- 
ciplinary divinity. Sun-worship, doubtless already old when Sumeria be- 
gan, expressed itself in the cult of Shamash, "light of the gods," who 
passed the night in the depths of the north, until Dawn opened its gates 
for him; then he mounted the sky like a flame, driving his chariot over 
the steeps of the firmament; the sun was merely a wheel of his fiery car. 18 
Nippur built great temples to the god Enlil and his consort Ninlil; Uruk 
worshiped especially the virgin earth-goddess Innini, known to the Semites 
of Akkad as Ishtar the loose and versatile Aphrodite-Demeter of the Near 
East. Kish and Lagash worshiped a Mat er Dolorosa, the sorrowful mother- 
goddess Ninkarsag, who, grieved with the unhappiness of men, interceded 
for them with sterner deities. 40 Ningirsu was the god of irrigation, the 
"Lord of Floods"; Abu or Tammuz was the god of vegetation. Even Sin 
was a godof the moon; he was represented in human form with a thin 


crescent about his head, presaging the halos of medieval saints. The air 
was full of spiritsbeneficent angels, one each as protector to every 
Sumerian, and demons or devils who sought to expel the protective deity 
and take possession of body and soul. 

Most of the gods lived in the temples, where they were provided by 
the faithful with revenue, food and wives. The tablets of Gudea list the 
objects which the gods preferred: oxen, goats, sheep, doves, chickens, 
ducks, fish, dates, figs, cucumbers, butter, oil and cakes; 41 we may judge 
from this list that the well-to-do Sumerian enjoyed a plentiful cuisine. 
Originally, it seems, the gods preferred human flesh; but as human morality 
improved they had to be content with animals. A liturgical tablet found 
in the Sumerian ruins says, with strange theological premonitions: "The 
lamb is the substitute for humanity; he hath given up a lamb for his life." 41 
Enriched by such beneficence, the priests became the wealthiest and most 
powerful class in the Sumerian cities. In most matters they were the gov- 
ernment; it is difficult to make out to what extent the patesi was a priest, 
and to what extent a king. Urukagina rose like a Luther against the ex- 
actions of the clergy, denounced them for their voracity, accused them of 
taking bribes in their administration of the law, and charged that they 
were levying such taxes upon farmers and fishermen as to rob them of 
the fruits of their toil. He swept the courts clear for a time of these corrupt 
officials, and established laws regulating the taxes and fees paid to the 
temples, protecting the helpless against extortion, and providing against 
the violent alienation of funds or property. 48 Already the world was old, 
and well established in its time-honored ways. 

Presumably the priests recovered their power when Urukagina died, 
quite as they were to recover their power in Egypt after the passing of 
Ikhnaton; men will pay any price for mythology. Even in this early age 
the great myths of religion were taking form. Since food and tools were 
placed in the graves with the dead, we may presume that the Sumerians 
believed in an after-life. 44 But like the Greeks they pictured the other world 
as a dark abode of miserable shadows, to which all the dead descended 
indiscriminately. They had not yet conceived heaven and hell, eternal 
reward and punishment; they offered prayer and sacrifice not for "eternal 
life," but for tangible advantages here on the earth. 48 Later legend told 
how Adapa, a sage of Eridu, had been initiated into all lore by Ea, goddess 
of wisdom; one secret only had been refused him the knowledge of 


deathless life." Another legend narrated how the gods had created man 
happy; how man, by his free will, had sinned, and been punished with a 
flood, from which but one man Tagtug the weaver had survived. Tag- 
tug forfeited longevity and health by eating the fruit of a forbidden tree. 47 

The priests transmitted education as well as mythology, and doubtless 
sought to teach, as well as to rule, by their myths. To most of the temples 
were attached schools wherein the clergy instructed boys and girls in 
writing and arithmetic, formed their habits into patriotism and piety, and 
prepared some of them for the high professsion of scribe. School tablets 
survive, encrusted with tables of multiplication and division, square and 
cube roots, and exercises in applied geometry. 4 * That the instruction was 
not much more foolish than that which is given to our children appears 
from a tablet which is a Lucretian outline of anthropology: "Mankind 
when created did not know of bread for eating or garments for wearing. 
The people walked with limbs on the ground, they ate herbs with their 
mouths like sheep, they drank ditch-water." 4 * 

What nobility of spirit and utterance this first of the historic religions 
could rise to shines out in the prayer of King Gudca to the goddess Bau, 
the patron deity of Lagash: 

my Queen, the Mother who established Lagash, 
The people on whom thou lookcst is rich in power; 
The worshiper on whom thou lookest, his life is prolonged. 

1 have no mother thou art my mother; 

I have no father thou art my father. . . . 
My goddess Bau, thou knowest what is good; 
Thou hast given me the breath of life. 
Under the protection of thee, my Mother, 
In thy shadow I will reverently dwell. 80 

Women were attached to every temple, some as domestics, some as 
concubines for the gods or their duly constituted representatives on earth. 
To serve the temples in this way did not seem any disgrace to a Sumcrian 
girl; her father was proud to devote her charms to the alleviation of divine 
monotony, and celebrated the admission of his daughter to these sacred 
functions with ceremonial sacrifice, and the presentation of the girl's 
marriage dowry to the temple. 81 

Marriage was already a complex institution regulated by many laws. 


The bride kept control of the dowry given her by her father in marriage, 
and though she held it jointly with her husband, she alone determined its 
bequest. She exercised equal rights with her husband over their children; 
and in the absence of the husband and a grown-up son she administered 
the estate as well as the home. She could engage in business independently 
of her husband, and could keep or dispose of her own slaves. Sometimes, 
like Shub-ad, she could rise to the status of queen, and rule her city with 
luxurious and imperious grace." But in all crises the man was lord and 
master. Under certain conditions he could sell his wife, or hand her over 
as a slave to pay his debts. The double standard was already in force, as 
a corollary of property and inheritance: adultery in the man was a for- 
givable whim, but in the woman it was punished with death. She was 
expected to give many children to her husband and the state; if barren, 
she could be divorced without further reason; if merely averse to con- 
tinuous maternity she was drowned. Children were without legal rights; 
their parents, by the act of publicly disowning them, secured their banish- 
ment from the city." 

Nevertheless, as in most civilizations, the women of the upper classes 
almost balanced, by their luxury and their privileges, the toil and dis- 
abilities of their poorer sisters. Cosmetics and jewelry are prominent in 
the Sumerian tombs. In Queen Shub-ad's grave Professor Woolley picked 
up a little compact of blue-green malachite, golden pins with knobs of 
lapis-Iazuli, and a vanity-case of filigree gold shell. This vanity-case, as 
large as a little finger, contained a tiny spoon, presumably for scooping up 
rouge from the compact; a metal stick, perhaps for training the cuticle; 
and a pair of tweezers probably used to train the eyebrows or to pluck 
out inopportune hairs. The Queen's rings .were made of gold wire; one 
ring was inset with segments of lapis-lazuli; her necklace was of fluted 
lapis and gold. Surely there is nothing new under the sun; and the differ- 
ence between the first woman and the last could pass through the eye of 
a needle. 

5. Letters and Arts 

Writing LiteratureTemples and palaces Statuary Ceramics 
Jewelry- -Summary of Sumerian civilization 

The startling fact in the Sumerian remains is writing. The marvelous art 
seems already well advanced, fit to express complex thought in com- 


merce, poetry and religion. The oldest inscriptions are on stone, and 
date apparently as far back as 3600 B.C. 54 Towards 3200 B.C. the clay 
tablet appears, and from that time on the Sumerians seem to have delighted 
in the great discovery. It is our good fortune that the people of Mesopo- 
tamia wrote not upon fragile, ephemeral paper in fading ink, but upon 
moist clay deftly impressed with the wedge-like ("cuneiform") point 
of a stylus. With this malleable material the scribe kept records, executed 
contracts, drew up official documents, recorded property, judgments and 
sales, and created a culture in which the stylus became as mighty as the 
sword. Having completed the writing, the scribe baked the clay tablet 
with heat or in the sun, and made it thereby a manuscript far more durable 
than paper, and only less lasting than stone. This development of cunei- 
form script was the outstanding contribution of Sumeria to the civilizing 
of mankind. 

Sumerian writing reads from right to left; the Babylonians were, so far 
as we know, the first people to write from left to right. The linear script, 
as we have seen, was apparently a stylized and conventionalized form of 
the signs and pictures painted or impressed upon primitive Sumerian pot- 
tery.* Presumably from repetition and haste over centuries of time, the 
original pictures were gradually contracted into signs so unlike the objects 
which they had once represented that they became the symbols of sounds 
rather than of things. We should have an analogous process in English if 
the picture of a bee should in time be shortened and simplified, and come to 
mean not a bee but the sound be, and then serve to indicate that syllable 
in any combination as in be-ing. The Sumerians and Babylonians never ad- 
vanced from such representation of syllables to the representation of letters 
never dropped the vowel in the syllabic sign to make be mean b; it seems to 
have remained for the Egyptians to take this simple but revolutionary step." 

The transition from writing to literature probably required many hun- 
dreds of years. For centuries writing was a tool of commerce, a matter 
of contracts and bills, of shipments and receipts; and secondarily, perhaps, 
it was an instrument of religious record, an attempt to preserve magic 
formulas, ceremonial procedures, sacred legends, prayers and hymns from 
alteration or decay. Nevertheless, by 2700 B.C., great libraries had been 
formed in Sumeria; at Tello, for example, in ruins contemporary with 
Gudea, De Sarzac discovered a collection of over 30,000 tablets ranged one 

* Cf. above, p. 104. 


upon another in neat and logical array. 56 As early as 2000 B.C. Sumerian 
historians began to reconstruct the past and record the present for the 
edification of the future; portions of their work have come down to us 
not in the original form but as quotations in later Babylonian chronicles. 
Among the original fragments, however, is a tablet found at Nippur, bear- 
ing the Sumerian prototype of the epic of Gilgamesh, which we shall study 
later in its developed Babylonian expression." 7 Some of the shattered 
tablets contain dirges of no mean power, and of significant literary form. 
Here at the outset appears the characteristic Near-Eastern trick of chant- 
ing repetitionmany lines beginning in the same way, many clauses reiter- 
ating or illustrating the meaning of the clause before. Through these sal- 
vaged relics we sec the religious origin of literature in the songs and lamen- 
tations of the priests. The first poems were not madrigals, but prayers. 

Behind these apparent beginnings of culture were doubtless many cen- 
turies of development, in Sumcria and other lands. Nothing has been 
created, it has only grown. Just as in writing Sumeria seeins to have 
created cuneiform, so in architecture it seems to have created at once the 
fundamental shapes of home and temple, column and vault and arch. 88 
The Sumerian peasant made his cottage by planting reeds in a square, a 
rectangle or a circle, bending the tops together, and binding them to form 
an arch, a vault or a dome; 5 " this, we surmise, is the simple origin, or earliest 
known appearance, of these architectural forms. Among the ruins of 
Nippur is an arched drain 5000 years old; in the royal tombs of Ur there 
are arches that go back to 3500 B.C., and arched doors were common 
at Ur 2000 B.C. And these were true arches: i.e., their stones were set 
in full voussoir fashion each stone a wedge tapering downward tightly 
into place. 

The richer citizens built palaces, perched on a mound sometimes forty 
feet above the plain, and made purposely inaccessible except by one path, 
so that every Sumcrian's home might be his castle. Since stone was scarce, 
these palaces were mostly of brick. The plain red surface of the walls was 
relieved by terracotta decoration in every form spirals, chevrons, triangles, 
even lozenges and diapers. The inner walls were plastered and painted in 
simple mural style. The house was built around a central court, which gave 
shade and some coolness against the Mediterranean sun; for the same reason, 
as well as for security, the rooms opened upon this court rather than upon 
the outer world. Windows were a luxury, or perhaps they were not wanted. 


Water was drawn from wells; and an extensive system of drainage drew 
the waste from the residential districts of the towns. Furniture was not 
complex or abundant but neither was it without taste. Some beds were in- 
laid with metal or ivory, and occasionally, as in Egypt, armchairs flaunted 
feet like lions' claws." 1 

For the temples stone was imported, and adorned with copper entabla- 
tures and friezes inlaid with semiprecious material. The temple of Nannar 
at Ur set a fashion for all Mesopotamia with pale blue enameled tiles; while 
its interior was paneled with rare woods like cedar and cypress, inlaid with 
marble, alabaster, onyx, agate and gold. Usually the most important temple 
in the city was not only built upon an elevation, but was topped with a zig- 
gurat a tower of three, four or seven stories, surrounded with a winding 
external stairway, and set back at every stage. Here on the heights the 
loftiest of the city's gods might dwell, and here the government might 
find a last spiritual and physical citadel against invasion or revolt.* 08 

The temples were sometimes decorated with statuary of animals, heroes 
and gods; figures plain, blunt and powerful, but severely lacking in sculp- 
tural finish and grace. Most of the extant statues are of King Gudea, exe- 
cuted resolutely but crudely in resistant diorite. In the ruins of Tell-cl- 
Ubaid, from the early Sumerian period, a copper statuette of a bull was 
found, much abused by the centuries, but still full of life and bovine com- 
placency. A cow's head in silver from the grave of Queen Shub-ad at 
Ur is a masterpiece that suggests a developed art too much despoiled by 
time to permit of our giving it its due. This is almost proved by the 
bas-reliefs that survive. The "Stele of the Vultures" set up by King Ean- 
natum of Lagash, the porphyry cylinder of Ibnishar, 63 the humorous cari- 
catures (as surely they must be) of Ur-nina, M and above all the "Victory 
Stele" of Naram-sin share the crudity of Sumerian sculpture, but have in 
them a lusty vitality of drawing and action characteristic of a young and 
flourishing art. 

Of the pottery one may not speak so leniently. Perhaps time misleads our 
judgment by having preserved the worst; perhaps there were many pieces 
as well carved as the alabaster vessels discovered at Eridu;" but for the most 
part Sumerian pottery, though turned on the wheel, is mere earthenware, 
and cannot compare with the vases of Elam. Better work was done by the 
goldsmiths. Vessels of gold, tasteful in design and delicate in finish, have 

* Such ziggurats have helped American architects to mould a new form for buildings 
forced by law to set back their upper stories lest they impede their neighbor's light. His- 
tory suddenly contracts into a brief coup d'ceil when we contemplate in one glance the 
brick ziggurats of Sumeria 5000 years old, and the brick ziggurats of contemporary 
New York. 


been found in the earliest graves at Ur, some as old as 4000 B.C." The 
silver vase of Entemenu, now in the Louvre, is as stocky as Gudea, but is 
adorned with a wealth of animal imagery finely engraved. 87 Best of all is the 
gold sheath and lapis-lazuli dagger exhumed at Ur; 68 here, if one may judge 
from photographs,* the form almost touches perfection. The ruins have 
given us a great number of cylindrical seals, mostly made of precious metal 
or stone, with reliefs carefully carved upon a square inch or two of surface; 
these seem to have served the Sumerians in place of signatures, and indicate 
a refinement of life and manners disturbing to our naive conception of 
progress as a continuous rise of man through the unfortunate cultures of the 
past to the unrivaled zenith of today. 

Sumerian civilization may be summed up in this contrast between crude 
pottery and consummate jewelry; it was a synthesis of rough beginnings 
and occasional but brilliant mastery. Here, within the limits of our present 
knowledge, are the first states and empires, the first irrigation, the first use 
of gold and silver as standards of value, the first business contracts, the 
first credit system, the first code of law, the first extensive development 
of writing, the first stories of the Creation and the Flood, the first libraries 
and schools, the first literature and poetry, the first cosmetics and jewelry, 
the first sculpture and bas-relief, the first palaces and temples, the first 
ornamental metal and decorative themes, the first arch, column, vault and 
dome. Here, for the first known time on a large scale, appear some of the 
sins of civilization: slavery, despotism, ecclesiasticism, and imperialistic 
war. It was a life differentiated and subtle, abundant and complex. 
Already the natural inequality of men was producing a new degree of 
comfort and luxury for the strong, and a new routine of hard and dis- 
ciplined labor for the rest. The theme was struck on which history would 
strum its myriad variations. 


Sunterian influence in Mesopotamia Ancient Arabia Mesopo- 
tomian influence in Egypt 

Nevertheless, we are still so near the beginning of recorded history when 
we speak of Sumeria that it is difficult to determine the priority or se- 
quence of the many related civilizations that developed in the ancient Near 

* The original is in the Iraq Museum at Baghdad. 


East. The oldest written records known to us are Sumcrian; this, which may 
be a whim of circumstance, a sport of mortality, does not prove that the 
first civilization was Sumerian. Statuettes and other remains akin to those of 
Sumeria have been found at Ashur and Samarra, in what became Assyria; we 
do not know whether this early culture came from Sumeria or passed to it 
along the Tigris. The code of Hammurabi resembles that of Ur-engur and 
Dungi, but we cannot be sure that it was evolved from it rather than from 
some predecessor ancestral to them both. It is only probable, not certain, 
that the civilizations of Babylonia and Assyria were derived from or fer- 
tilized by that of Sumer and Akkad.* The gods and myths of Babylon and 
Nineveh are in many cases modifications or developments of Sumcrian the- 
ology; and the languages of these later cultures bear the same relationship 
to Sumeria that French and Italian bear to Latin. 

Schweinfurth has called attention to the interesting fact that though the 
cultivation of barley, millet and wheat, and the domestication of cattle, goats 
and sheep, appear in both Egypt and Mesopotamia as far back as our rec- 
ords go, these cereals and animals arc found in their wild and natural state 
not in Egypt but in western Asiaespecially in Yemen or ancient Arabia. 
He concludes that civilization i.e., in this context, the cultivation of cereals 
and the use of domesticated animals appeared in unrecorded antiquity in 
Arabia, and spread thence in a "triangular culture" to Mesopotamia (Sumeria, 
Babylonia, Assyria) and Egypt. 70 Current knowledge of primitive Arabia is 
too slight to make this more than a presentable hypothesis. 

More definite is the derivation of certain specific elements of Egyptian 
culture from Sumeria and Babylonia. We know that trade passed between 
Mesopotamia and Egypt certainly via the isthmus at Suez, and probably 
by water from the ancient outlets of Egyptian rivers on the Red Sea. 71 A 
look at the map explains why Egypt, throughout its known history, has be- 
longed to Western Asia rather than to Africa; trade and culture could pass 
from Asia along the Mediterranean to the Nile, but shortly beyond that it 
was balked by the desert which, with the cataracts of the Nile, isolated 
Egypt from the remainder of Africa. Hence it is natural that we should 
find many Mcsopotamian elements in the primitive culture of Egypt. 

The farther back we trace the Egyptian language the more affinities it 
reveals with the Semitic tongues of the Near East. The pictographic writ- 
ing of the predynastic Egyptians seems to have come in from Sumcria. 78 
The cylindrical seal, which is of unquestionably Mesopotamian origin, ap- 
pears in the earliest period of known Egyptian history, and then disappears, 
as if an imported custom had been displaced by a native mode. 74 The potter's 
wheel is not known in Egypt before the Fourth Dynasty long after its ap- 
pearance in Sumeria; presumably it came into Egypt from the Land be- 


tween the Rivers along with the wheel and the chariot. 75 Early Egyptian 
and Babylonian mace-heads are completely identical in form. 78 A finely 
worked flint knife, found in predynastic Egyptian remains at Gebcl-el-Arak, 
bears reliefs in Mesopotamian themes and style. 77 Copper was apparently 
developed in western Asia, and brought thence to Egypt. 78 Early Egyptian 
architecture resembles Mesopotamian in the use of the recessed panel as a 
decoration for brick walls. 79 Predynastic pottery, statuettes and decorative 
motives are in many cases identical, or unmistakably allied, with Mesopo- 
tamian products. 80 Among these early Egyptian remains are small figures of 
a goddess of evident Asiatic origin. At a time when Egyptian civilization 
seems to have only begun, the artists of Ur were making statuary and reliefs 
whose style and conventions demonstrate the antiquity of these arts in 
Sumcria. 81 * 

Egypt could well afford to concede the priority of Sumeria. For what- 
ever the Nile may have borrowed from the Tigris and the Euphrates, it 
soon flowered into a civilization specifically and uniquely its own; one of 
the richest and greatest, one of the most powerful and yet one of the most 
graceful, cultures in history. By its side Sumeria was but a crude beginning; 
and not even Greece or Rome would surpass it. 

* A great scholar, Elliot Smith, has tried to offset these considerations by pointing out 
that although barley, millet and wheat are not known in their natural state in Egypt, it is 
there that we find the oldest signs of their cultivation; and he believes that it was from 
Egypt that agriculture and civilization came to Sumeria. 82 The greatest of American 
Egyptologists, Professor Breasted, is similarly unconvinced of the priority of Sumeria. 
Dr. Breasted believes that the wheel is at least as old in Egypt as in Sumcria, and rejects 
the hypothesis of Schweinfurth on the ground that cereals have been found in their 
native state in the highlands of Abyssinia. 




/. In the Delta 

Alexandria The Nile The PyrainidsThe Sphinx 

THIS is a perfect harbor. Outside the long breakwater the waves 
topple over one another roughly; within it the sea is a silver mirror. 
There, on the little island of Pharos, when Egypt was very old, Sostratus 
built his great lighthouse of white marble, five hundred feet high, as a 
beacon to all ancient mariners of the Mediterranean, and as one of the 
seven wonders of the world. Time and the nagging waters have washed 
it away, but a new lighthouse has taken its place, and guides the steamer 
through the rocks to the quays of Alexandria. Here that astonishing boy- 
statesman, Alexander, founded the subtle, polyglot metropolis that was 
to inherit the culture of Egypt, Palestine and Greece. In this harbor Cxsar 
received without gladness the severed head of Pompey. 

As the train glides through the city, glimpses come of unpaved alleys 
and streets, heat waves dancing in the air, workingmen naked to the waist, 
black-garbed women bearing burdens sturdily, white-robed and turbaned 
Moslems of regal dignity, and in the distance spacious squares and shining 
palaces, perhaps as fair as those that the Ptolemies built when Alexandria 
was the meeting-place of the world. Then suddenly it is open country, 
and the city recedes into the horizon of the fertile Delta that green 
triangle which looks on the map like the leaves of a lofty palm-tree held 
up on the slender stalk of the Nile. 

Once, no doubt, this Delta was a bay; patiently the broad stream filled 
it up, too slowly to be seen, with detritus carried down a thousand 
miles;* now from this little corner of mud, enclosed by the many mouths 
of the river, six million peasants grow enough cotton to export a hundred 
million dollars' worth of it every year. There, bright and calm under the 

* Even the ancient geographers (e.g., Strabo 1 ) believed that Egypt had once been under 
the waters of the Mediterranean, and that its deserts had been the bottom of the sea. 



glaring sun, fringed with slim palms and grassy banks, is the most famous 
of all rivers. We cannot see the desert that lies so close beyond it, or the 
great empty i^tfriver-beds where once its fertile tributaries flowed; 
we cannot realize yet how precariously narrow a thing this Egypt is, owing 
everything to the river, and harassed on either side with hostile, shifting 

Now the train passes amid the alluvial plain. The land is half covered 
with water, and crossed everywhere with irrigation canals. In the ditches 
and the fields black fellaheen* labor, knowing no garment but a cloth 
about the loins. The river has had one of its annual inundations, which 
begin at the summer solstice and last for a hundred days; through that over- 
flow the desert became fertile, and Egypt blossomed, in Herodotus' phrase, 
as the "gift of the Nile." It is clear why civilization found here one of 
its earliest homes; nowhere else was a river so generous in irrigation, and 
so controllable in its rise; only Mesopotamia could rival it. For thousands 
of years the peasants have watched this rise with anxious eagerness; to this 
day public criers announce its progress each morning in the streets of 
Cairo. 1 So the past, with the quiet continuity of this river, flows into the 
future, lightly touching the present on its way. Only historians make 
divisions; time does not. 

But every gift must be paid for; and the peasant, though he valued the 
rising waters, knew that without control they could ruin as well as irrigate 
his fields. So from time beyond history he built these ditches that cross 
and rccross the land; he caught the surplus in canals, and when the river 
fell he raised the water with buckets pivoted on long poles, singing, as 
he worked, the songs that the Nile has heard for five thousand years. For 
as these peasants arc now, sombre and laughterless even in their singing, 
so they have been, in all likelihood, for fifty centuries. 3 This water-raising 
apparatus is as old as the Pyramids; and a million of these ]ellabecn, despite 
the conquests of Arabic, still speak the language of the ancient monuments.* 
Here in the Delta, fifty miles southeast of Alexandria, is the site of 
Naucratis, once filled with industrious, scheming Greeks; thirty miles 
farther east, the site of Sai's, where, in the centuries before the Persian 
and Greek conquests, the native civilization of Egypt had its last revival; 
and then, a hundred and twenty-nine miles southeast of Alexandria, is 
Cairo. A beautiful city, but not Egyptian; the conquering Moslems 

Plural form of the Arabic fellah, peasant; from f claha, to plough. 


founded it in A.D. 968; then the bright spirit of France overcame the 
gloomy Arab and built here a Paris in the desert, exotic and unreal. One 
must pass through it by motorcar or leisurely fiacre to find old Egypt at 
the Pyramids. 

How small they appear from the long road that approaches them; did 
we come so far to see so little? But then they grow larger, as if they were 
being lifted up into the air; round a turn in the road we surprise the edge 
of the desert; and there suddenly the Pyramids confront us, bare and 
solitary in the sand, gigantic and morose against an Italian sky. A motley 
crowd scrambles abomPfheir base stout business men on blinking donkeys, 
stouter ladies secure in carts, young men prancing on horseback, young 
women sitting uncomfortably on camel-back, their silk knees glistening 
in the sun; and everywhere grasping Arabs. We stand where Cxsar and 
Napoleon stood, and remember that fifty centuries look down upon us; 
where the Father of History came four hundred years before Caesar, and 
heard the tales that were to startle Pericles. A new perspective of time 
comes to us; two millenniums seem to fall out of the picture, and Cxsar, 
Herodotus and ourselves appear for a moment contemporary and modern 
before these tombs that were more ancient to them than the Greeks 
are to us. 

Nearby, the Sphinx, half lion and half philosopher, grimly claws the 
sand, and glares unmoved at the transient visitor and the eternal plain. 
It is a savage monument, as if designed to frighten old lechers and make 
children retire early. The lion body passes into a human head with 
prognathous jaws and cruel eyes; the civilization that built it (ca. 2990 
B.C.) had not quite forgotten barbarism. Once the sand covered it, and 
Herodotus, who saw so much that is not there, says not a word of it. 

Nevertheless, what wealth these old Egyptians must have had, what 
power and skill, even in the infancy of history, to bring these vast stones 
six hundred miles, to raise some of them, weighing many tons, to a height 
of half a thousand feet, and to pay, or even to feed, the hundred thousand 
slaves who toiled for twenty years on these Pyramids! Herodotus has 
preserved for us an inscription that he found on one pyramid, record- 
ing the quantity of radishes, garlic and onions consumed by the workmen 
who built it; these things, too, had to have their immortality.* Despite 

* Diodorus Siculus, who must always be read sceptically, writes: "An inscription on the 
larger pyramid . . . sets forth that on vegetables and purgatives for the workmen there 
were paid out over 1600 talents" i.e., $16,000,000." 


these familiar friends we go away disappointed; there is something bar- 
barically primitive or barbarically modern in this brute hunger for 
size. It is the memory and imagination of the beholder that, swollen 
with history, make these monuments great; in themselves they are a little 
ridiculous vainglorious tombs in which the dead sought eternal life. 
Perhaps pictures have too much ennobled them: photography can catch 
everything but dirt, and enhances man-made objects with noble vistas of 
land and sky. The sunset at Gizeh is greater than the Pyramids. 

2. Upstream 

Memphis-The masterpiece of Queen Hatshepsut-The ''Colossi 
of Memnon" Luxor and KarnakThe grandeur of Egyp- 
tian civilization 

From Cairo a little steamer moves up the river i.e., southward through 
six leisurely days to Karnak and Luxor. Twenty miles below Cairo it 
passes Memphis, the most ancient of Egypt's capitals. Here, where the 
great Third and Fourth Dynasties lived, in a city of two million souls, 
nothing now greets the eye but a row of small pyramids and a grove of 
palms; for the rest there is only desert, infinite, villainous sand, slipping 
under the feet, stinging the eyes, filling the pores, covering everything, 
stretching from Morocco across Sinai, Arabia, Turkestan, Tibet to Mon- 
golia: along that sandy belt across two continents civilization once built 
its seats and now is gone, driven away, as the ice receded, by increasing 
heat and decreasing rain. By the Nile, for a dozen miles on either side, 
runs a ribbon of fertile soil; from the Mediterranean to Nubia there is 
only this strip redeemed from the desert. This is the thread upon which 
hung the life of Egypt. And yet how brief seems the life-span of Greece, or 
the millennium of Rome, beside the long record from Menes to Cleopatra! 

A week later the steamer is at Luxor. On this site, now covered with 
Arab hamlets or drifting sand, once stood the greatest of Egypt's capitals, 
the richest city of the very ancient world, known to the Greeks as Thebes, 
and to its own people as Wesi and Ne. On the eastern slope of the Nile is 
the famous Winter Palace of Luxor, aflame with bougainvillea; across the 
river the sun is setting over the Tombs of the Kings into a sea of sand, 
and the sky is flaked with gaudy tints of purple and gold. Far in the west 
the pillars of Queen Hatshepsut's noble temple gleam, looking for all the 
world like some classic colonnade. 


In the morning lazy sailboats ferry the seeker across a river so quiet 
and unpretentious that no one would suspect that it had been flowing here 
for uncounted centuries. Then over mile after mile of desert, through 
dusty mountain passes and by historic graves, until the masterpiece of the 
great Queen rises still and white in the trembling heat. Here the artist 
decided to transform nature and her hills into a beauty greater than her 
own: into the very face of the granite cliff he built these columns, as 
stately as those that Ictinus made for Pericles; it is impossible, seeing these, 
to doubt that Greece took her architecture, perhaps through Crete, from 
this initiative race. And on the walls vast bas-reliefs, alive with motion 
and thought, tell the story of the first great woman in history, and not 
the least of queens. 

On the road back sit two giants in stone, representing the most luxurious 
of Egypt's monarchs, Amenhotep HI, but mistakenly called the "Colossi 
of Memnon" by the Baedekers of Greece. Each is seventy feet high, 
weighs seven hundred tons, and is carved out of a single rock. On the 
base of one of them are the inscriptions left by Greek tourists who visited 
these ruins two thousand years ago; again the centuries fall out of reckon- 
ing, and those Greeks seem strangely contemporary with us in the presence 
of these ancient things. A mile to the north lie the stone remains of 
Rameses II, one of the most fascinating figures in history, beside whom 
Alexander is an immature trifle; alive for ninety-nine years, emperor for 
sixty-seven, father of one hundred and fifty children; here he is a statue, once 
fifty-six feet high, now fifty-six feet long, prostrate and ridiculous in the 
sand. Napoleon's savants measured him zealously; they found his ear three 
and a half feet long, his foot five feet wide, his weight a thousand tons; 
for him Bonaparte should have used his later salutation of Goethe: "Voild 
un homme! behold a man!" 

All around now, on the west bank of the Nile, is the City of the Dead. 
At every turn some burrowing Egyptologist has unearthed a royal tomb. 
The grave of Tutenkhamon is closed, locked even in the faces of those 
who thought that gold would open anything; but the tomb of Seti I is 
open, and there in the cool earth one may gaze at decorated ceilings and 
passages, and marvel at the wealth and skill that could build such sarcophagi 
and surround them with such art. In one of these tombs the excavators 
saw, on the sand, the footprints of the slaves who had carried the 
to its place three thousand years before.' 


But the best remains adorn the eastern side of the river. Here at Luxor 
the lordly Amenhotep HI, with the spoils of Thutmose Ill's victories, 
began to build his most pretentious edifice; death came upon him as he 
built; then, after the work had been neglected for a century, Rameses II 
finished it in regal style. At once the quality of Egyptian architecture 
floods the spirit: here are scope and power, not beauty merely, but a 
masculine sublimity. A wide court, now waste with sand, paved of old 
with marble; on three sides majestic colonnades matched by Karnak alone; 
on every hand carved stone in bas-relief, and royal statues proud even in 
desolation. Imagine eight long stems of the papyrus plant nurse of letters 
and here the form of art; at the base of the fresh unopened flowers bind 
the stems with five firm bands that will give beauty strength; then picture 
the whole stately stalk in stone: this is the papyriform column of Luxor. 
Fancy a court of such columns, upholding massive entablatures and shade- 
giving porticoes; see the whole as the ravages of thirty centuries have left 
it; then estimate the men who, in what we once thought the childhood of 
civilization, could conceive and execute such monuments. 

Through ancient ruins and modern squalor a rough footpath leads to 
what Egypt keeps as its final offering the temples of Karnak. Half a 
hundred Pharaohs took part in building them, from the last dynasties of 
the Old Kingdom to the days of the Ptolemies; generation by generation 
the structures grew, until sixty acres were covered with the lordliest 
offerings that architecture ever made to the gods. An "Avenue of 
Sphinxes" leads to the place where Champollion, founder of Egyptology, 
stood in 1828 and wrote: 

I went at last to the palace, or rather to the city of monuments 
to Karnak. There all the magnificence of the Pharaohs appeared to 
me, all that men have imagined and executed on the grandest scale. 
, . . . No people, ancient or modern, has conceived the art of archi- 
tecture on a scale so sublime, so great, so grandiose, as the ancient 
Egyptians. They conceived like men a hundred feet high. 7 

To understand it would require maps and plans, and all an architect's 
learning. A spacious enclosure of many courts one-third of a mile on 
each side; a population of once 86,000 statues; 8 a main group of buildings, 
constituting the Temple of Amon, one thousand by three hundred feet; 
great pylons or gates between one court and the next; the perfect "Heraldic 


Pillars" of Thutmose III, broken off rudely at the top, but still of astonish- 
ingly delicate carving and design; the Festival Hall of the same formidable 
monarch, its fluted shafts here and there anticipating all the power of the 
Doric column in Greece; the little Temple of Ptah, with graceful pillars 
rivaling the living palms beside them; the Promenade, again the work of 
Thutmose's builders, with bare and massive colonnades, symbol of Egypt's 
Napoleon; above all, the Hypostyle Hall,* a very forest of one hundred 
and forty gigantic columns, crowded close to keep out the exhausting 
sun, flowering out at their tops into spreading palms of stone, and holding 
up, with impressive strength, a roof of mammoth slabs stretched in solid 
granite from capital to capital. Nearby two slender obelisks, monoliths 
complete in symmetry and grace, rise like pillars of light amid the ruins 
of statues and temples, and announce in their inscriptions the proud 
message of Queen Hatshepsut to the world. These obelisks, the carv- 
ing says, 

are of hard granite from the quarries of the South; their tops are 
of fine gold chosen from the best in all foreign lands. They can be 
seen from afar on the river; the splendor of their radiance fills the 
Two Lands, and when the solar disc appears between them it is 
truly as if he rose up into the horizon of the sky. . . . You who after 
long years shall see these monuments, who shall speak of what I 
have done, you will say, "We do not know, we do not know how 
they can have made a whole mountain of gold." . . . To guild them 
I have given gold measured by the bushel, as though it were sacks 
of grain, ... for I knew that Karnak is the celestial horizon of the 
earth. 9 

What a queen, and what kings! Perhaps this first great civilization was 
the finest of all, and we have but begun to uncover its glory? Near the 
Sacred Lake at Karnak men are digging, carrying away the soil patiently 
in little paired baskets slung over the shoulder on a pole; an Egyptologist 
is bending absorbed over hieroglyphics on two stones just rescued from 
the earth; he is one of a thousand such men, Carters and Breasteds and 
Masperos, Petries and Caparts and Weigalls, living simply here in the heat 
and dust, trying to read for us the riddle of the Sphinx, to snatch from the 
secretive soil the art and literature, the history and wisdom of Egypt. 

* A model of this can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of An, New York. 


Every day the earth and the elements fight against them; superstition 
curses and hampers them; moisture and corrosion attack the very monu- 
ments they have exhumed; and the same Nile that gives food to Egypt 
creeps in its overflow into the ruins of Karnak, loosens the pillars, tumbles 
them down,* and leaves upon them, when it subsides, a deposit of saltpetre 
that eats like a leprosy into the stone. 

Let us contemplate the glory of Egypt once more, in her history and 
her civilization, before her last monuments crumble into the sand. 


1. The Discovery of Egypt 
Champollion and the Rosetta Stone 

The recovery of Egypt is one of the most brilliant chapters in arche- 
ology. The Middle Ages knew of Egypt as a Roman colony and a Chris- 
tian settlement; the Renaissance presumed that civilization had begun with 
Greece; even the Enlightenment, though it concerned itself intelligently 
with China and India, knew nothing of Egypt beyond the Pyramids. Egyp- 
tology was a by-product of Napoleonic imperialism. When the great Cor- 
sican led a French expedition to Egypt in 1798 he took with him a number 
of draughtsmen and engineers to explore and map the terrain, and made^ 
place also for certain scholars absurdly interested in Egypt for the sake of 
a better understanding of history. It was this corps of men who first re- 
vealed the temples of Luxor and Karnak to the modern world; and the 
elaborate Description de Ufigypte (1809-13) which they prepared for the 
French Academy was the first milestone in the scientific study of this for- 
gotten civilization. 10 

For many years, however, they were unable to read the inscriptions sur- 
viving on the monuments. Typical of the scientific temperament was the 
patient devotion with which Champollion, one of these savants, applied 
himself to the decipherment of the hieroglyphics. He found at last an 
obelisk covered with such "sacred carvings" in Egyptian, but bearing at the 
base a Greek inscription which indicated that the writing concerned Ptolemy 
and Cleopatra. Guessing that two hieroglyphics often repeated, with a royal 
cartouche attached, were the names of these rulers, he made out tentatively 
(1822) eleven Egyptian letters; this was the first proof that Egypt had had 

* On October 3, 1899, eleven columns at Karnak, loosened by the water, fell to the 


an alphabet. Then he applied this alphabet to a great black stone slab that 
Napoleon's troops had stumbled upon near the Rosetta mouth of the Nile. 
This "Rosetta Stone"* contained an inscription in three languages: first in 
hieroglyphics, second in "demotic" the popular script of the Egyptians and 
third in Greek. With his knowledge of Greek, and the eleven letters made 
out from the obelisk, Champollion, after more than twenty years of labor, 
deciphered the whole inscription, discovered the entire Egyptian alphabet, 
and opened the way to the recovery of a lost world. It was one of the 
peaks in the history of history, t 11 

2. Prehistoric Egypt 
Paleolithic Neolithic The BadariansPredynasticRace 

Since the radicals of one age are the reactionaries of the next, it was not 
to be expected that the men who created Egyptology should be the first to 
accept as authentic the remains of Egypt's Old Stone Age; after forty les 
savants ne sont pas curieux. When the first flints were unearthed in the 
valley of the Nile, Sir Flinders Petrie, not usually hesitant with figures, 
classed them as the work of post-dynastic generations; and Maspero, whose 
lordly erudition did no hurt to his urbane and polished style, ascribed neo- 
lithic Egyptian pottery to the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless, in 1895 De 
Morgan revealed an almost continuous gradation of paleolithic cultures- 
corresponding substantially with their succession in Europe in the flint 
hand-axes, harpoons, arrow-heads and hammers exhumed all along the 
Nile." Imperceptibly the paleolithic remains graduate into neolithic at depths 
indicating an age 10,000-4000 B.C. 14 The stone tools become more refined, 
and reach indeed a level of sharpness, finish and precision uncqualed by any 
other neolithic culture known." Towards the end of the period metal work 
enters in the form of vases, chisels and pins of copper, and ornaments of 
silver and gold. 10 

Finally, as a transition to history, agriculture appears. In the year 1901, 
near the little town of Badari (half way between Cairo and Karnak), bodies 
were excavated amid implements indicating a date approximating to forty 
centuries before Christ. In the intestines of these bodies, preserved through 
six millenniums by the dry heat of the sand, were husks of unconsumed 
barley." Since barley does not grow wild in Egypt, it is presumed that the 
Badarians had learned to cultivate cereals. From that early age the in- 

* Now in the British Museum. 

fThc Swedish diplomat Akcrblad in 1802, and the versatile English physicist Thomas 
Young in 1814, had helped by partly deciphering the Rosetta Stone. 13 


habitants of the Nile valley began the work of irrigation, cleared the jungles 
and the swamps, won the river from the crocodile and the hippopotamus, 
and slowly laid the groundwork of civilization. 

These and other remains give us some inkling of Egyptian life before the 
first of the historic dynasties. It was a culture midway between hunting and 
agriculture, and just beginning to replace stone with metal tools. The peo- 
ple made boats, ground corn, wove linen and carpets, had jewels and per- 
fumes, barbers and domesticated animals, and delighted to draw pictures, 
chiefly of the prey they pursued. 18 They painted upon their simple pottery 
figures of mourning women, representations of animals and men, and ge- 
ometrical designs; and they carved such excellent products as the Gebel-el- 
Arak knife. They had pictographic writing, and Sumerian-like cylinder 
seals. 19 

No one knows whence these early Egyptians came. Learned guesses in- 
cline to the view that they were a cross between Nubian, Ethiopian and 
Libyan natives on one side and Semitic or Armenoid immigrants on the 
other; 80 even at that date there were no pure races on the earth. Probably the 
invaders or immigrants from Western Asia brought a higher culture with 
them," and their intermarriage with the vigorous native stocks provided 
that ethnic blend which is often the prelude to a new civilization. Slowly, 
from 4000 to 3000 B.C., these mingling groups became a people, and created 
the Egypt of history. 

3. The Old Kingdom 

The "nowcs"-The first historic individual-"Cheops"-"Che- 

phren"The purpose of the Pyramids Art of the tombs 


Already, by 4000 B.C., these peoples of the Nile had forged a form 
of government. The population along the river was divided into "nomes,"* 
in each of which the inhabitants were essentially of one stock, acknowl- 
edged the same totem, obeyed the same chief, and worshiped the same 
gods by the same rites. Throughout the history of ancient Egypt these 
nomes persisted, their "nomarchs" or rulers having more or less power 
and autonomy according to the weakness or strength of the reigning 
Pharaoh. As all developing structures tend toward an increasing inter- 
dependence of the parts, so in this case the growth of trade and the rising 

* So called by the Greeks from their word for law (nomos) . 


costliness of war forced the nomes to organize themselves into two king- 
domsone in the south, one in the north; a division probably reflecting 
the conflict between African natives and Asiatic immigrants. This danger- 
ous accentuation of geographic and ethnic diff erences was resolved for 
a time when Menes, a half-legendary figure, brought the "Two Lands" 
under his united power, promulgated a body of laws given him by the 
god Thoth," established the first historic dynasty, built a new capital at 
Memphis, "taught the people" (in the words of an ancient Greek historian) 
"to use tables and couches, and . . . introduced luxury and an extravagant 
manner of life." 88 

The first real person in known history is not a conqueror or a king but 
an artist and a scientist Imhotep, physician, architect and chief adviser 
of King Zoser (ca. 3150 B.C.). He did so much for Egyptian medicine 
that later generations worshiped him as a god of knowledge, author of 
their sciences and their arts; and at the same time he appears to have 
founded the school of architecture which provided the next dynasty with 
the first great builders in history. It was under his administration, accord- 
ing to Egyptian tradition, that the first stone house was built; it was he who 
planned the oldest Egyptian structure extant the Step-Pyramid of 
Sakkara, a terraced structure of stone which for centuries set the style in 
tombs; and apparently it was he who designed the funerary temple of 
Zoser, with its lovely lotus columns and its limestone paneled walls." In 
these old remains at Sakkarah, at what is almost the beginning of historic 
Egyptian art, we find fluted shafts as fair as any that Greece would build," 
reliefs full of realism and vitality, 89 green faience richly colored glazed 
earthenware rivaling the products of medieval Italy,* 1 and a power- 
ful stone figure of King Zoser himself, obscured in its details by the blows 
of time, but still revealing an astonishingly subtle and sophisticated face. 28 

We do not know what concourse of circumstance made the Fourth 
Dynasty the most important in Egyptian history before the Eighteenth. 
Perhaps it was the lucrative mining operations in the last reign of the 
Third, perhaps the ascendancy of Egyptian merchants in Mediterranean 
trade, perhaps the brutal energy of Khufu,* first Pharaoh of the new 
house. Herodotus has passed on to us the traditions of the Egyptian 
priests concerning this builder of the first of Gizeh's pyramids: 

* The "Cheops" of Herodotus, r. 3098-75 B.C. 


Now they tell me that to the reign of Rhampsinitus there was a 
perfect distribution of justice and that all Egypt was in a high state 
of prosperity; but that after him Cheops, coming to reign over 
them, plunged into every kind of wickedness, for that, having shut 
up all the temples, ... he ordered all the Egyptians to work for 
himself. Some, accordingly, were appointed to draw stones from 
the quarries in the Arabian mountains down to the Nile, others he 
ordered to receive the stones when transported in vessels across the 
river. . . . And they worked to the number of a hundred thousand 
men at a time, each party during three months. The time during 
which the people were thus harassed by toil lasted ten years on the 
road which they constructed, and along which they drew the stones; 
a work, in my opinion, not much less than the Pyramid.* 

Of his successor and rival builder, Khafre,* we know something almost 
at first hand; for the diorite portrait which is among the treasures of the 
Cairo Museum pictures him, if not as he looked, certainly as we might 
conceive this Pharaoh of the second pyramid, who ruled Egypt for 
fifty-six years. On his head is the falcon, symbol of the royal power; but 
even without that sign we should know that he was every inch a king. 
Proud, direct, fearless, piercing eyes; a powerful nose and a frame of 
reserved and quiet strength; it is evident that nature had long since learned 
how to make men, and art had long since learned how to represent them. 

Why did these men build pyramids? Their purpose was not archi- 
tectural but religious; the pyramids were tombs, lineally descended from 
the most primitive of burial mounds. Apparently the Pharaoh believed, 
like any commoner among his people, that every living body was inhabited 
by a double, or ka, which need not die with the breath; and that the ka 
would survive all the more completely if the flesh were preserved against 
hunger, violence and decay. The pyramid, by its heigh t,f its form and 
its position, sought stability as a means to deathlessness; and except for 
its square corners it took the natural form that any homogeneous group 
of solids would take if allowed to fall unimpeded to the earth. Again, it 
was to have permanence and strength; therefore stones were piled up here 
with mad patience as if they had grown by the wayside and had not been 
carried from quarries hundreds of miles away. In Khufu's pyramid there 

The "Chcphrcn" of Herodotus, r. 3067-11 B.C. 

fThe word pyramid is apparently derived from the Egyptian word pi-re-mus, altitude, 
rather than from the Greek pyr, fire. 

CHAP. Vin) EGYPT 149 

are two and a half million blocks, some of them weighing one hundred 
and fifty tons, 88 all of them averaging two and a half tons; they cover half 
a million square feet, and rise 48 1 feet into the air. And the mass is solid; 
only a few blocks were omitted, to leave a secret passage way for the 
carcass of the King. A guide leads the trembling visitor on all fours into 
the cavernous mausoleum, up a hundred crouching steps to the very heart 
of the pyramid; there in the damp, still center, buried in darkness and 
secrecy, once rested the bones of Khufu and his queen. The marble 
sarcophagus of the Pharaoh is still in place, but broken and empty. Even 
these stones could not deter human thievery, nor all the curses of the gods. 
Since the ka was conceived as the minute image of the body, it had to 
be fed, clothed and served after the death of the frame. Lavatories were 
provided in some royal tombs for the convenience of the departed soul; 
and a funerary text expresses some anxiety lest the ka, for want of food, 
should feed upon its own excreta" One suspects that Egyptian burial 
customs, if traced to their source, would lead to the primitive interment 
of a warrior's weapons with his corpse, or to some institution like the 
Hindu suttee the burial of a man's wives and slaves with him that they 
may attend to his needs. This having proved irksome to the wives and 
slaves, painters and sculptors were engaged to draw pictures, carve bas- 
reliefs, and make statuettes resembling these aides; by a magic formula, 
usually inscribed upon them, the carved or painted objects would be 
quite as effective as the real ones. A man's descendants were inclined to 
be lazy and economical, and even if he had left an endowment to cover 
the costs they were apt to neglect the rule that religion originally put 
upon them of supplying the dead with provender. Hence pictorial sub- 
stitutes were in any case a wise precaution: they could provide the ka of 
the deceased with fertile fields, plump oxen, innumerable servants and 
busy artisans, at an attractively reduced rate. Having discovered this 
principle, the artist accomplished marvels with it. One tomb picture shows 
a field being ploughed, the next shows the grain being reaped or threshed, 
another the bread being baked; one shows the bull copulating with the 
cow, another the calf being born, another the grown cattle being slaugh- 
tered, another the meat served hot on the dish. 32 A fine limestone bas-relief 
in the tomb of Prince Rahotep portrays the dead man enjoying the varied 
victuals on the table before him. 88 Never since has art done so much 
for men 


Finally the ka was assured long life not only by burying the cadaver 
in a sarcophagus of the hardest stone, but by treating it to the most pains- 
taking mummification. So well was this done that to this day bits of hair 
and flesh cling to the royal skeletons. Herodotus vividly describes the 
Egyptian embalmer's art: 

First they draw out the brains through the nostrils with an iron 
hook, raking part of it out in this manner, the rest by the infusion 
of drugs. Then with a sharp stone they make an incision in the side, 
and take out all the bowels; and having cleansed the abdomen and 
rinsed it with palm wine, they next sprinkle it with pounded per- 
fume. Then, having filled the belly with pure myrrh, cassia and 
other perfumes, they sew it up again; and when they have done this 
they steep it in natron,* leaving it under for seventy days; for a 
longer time than this it is not lawful to steep it. At the expiration 
of seventy days they wash the corpse, and wrap the whole body in 
bandages of waxen cloth, smearing it with gum, which the Egyp- 
tians commonly use instead of glue. After this the relations, hav- 
ing taken the body back again, make a wooden case in the shape of 
a man, and having made it they enclose the body; and then, having 
fastened it up, they store it in a sepulchral chamber, setting it up- 
right against the wall. In this manner they prepare the bodies that 
are embalmed in the most expensive way.* 4 

"All the world fears Time," says an Arab proverb, "but Time fears the 
Pyramids." 18 However, the pyramid of Khufu has lost twenty feet of its 
height, and all its ancient marble casing is gone; perhaps Time is only 
leisurely with it. Beside it stands Khafre's pyramid, a trifle smaller, but 
still capped with the granite casing that once covered it all. Humbly be- 
yond this squats the pyramid of Khafre's successor Menkaure,t covered 
not with granite but with shamefaced brick, as if to announce that when 
men raised it the zenith of the Old Kingdom had passed. The statues of 
Menkaure that have come down to us show him as a man more refined and 
less forceful than Khafre.| ^^H^ation,_like !!?! ^destroys what it has 
perfected, Already, it may be, the growth of comforts and luxuries, the 

* A silicate of sodium and aluminum: Na 2 ALSi,O 10 2H s O. 
t The "Mycerinus" of Herodotus, r. 301 1-2988 B.C. 

jCf. the statues of Menkaure and his consort in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
New York. 


progress of manners and morals, had made men lovers of peace and haters 
of war. Suddenly a new figure appeared, usurped Menkaure's throne, and 
put an end to the pyramid-builders' dynasty. 

4. The Middle Kingdom 
The Feudal Age The Twelfth Dynasty The Hyksos Domination 

ICings were never so plentiful as in Egypt. History lumps them into 
dynasties monarchs of one line or family; but even then they burden the 
memory intolerably.* One of these early Pharaohs, Pepi II, ruled Egypt/ 
for ninety-four years (2738-2644 B.C.) the longest reign in history. j 
When he died anarchy and dissolution ensued, the Pharaohs lost control, 
and feudal barons ruled the nomes independently: this alternation between 
centralized and decentralized power is one of the cyclical rhythms of his- 
tory, as if men tired alternately of immoderate liberty and excessive order. 
After a Dark Age of four chaotic centuries a strong-willed Charlemagne 
arose, set things severely in order, changed the capital from Memphis to 
Thebes, and under the title of Amcnemhet 1 inaugurated that Twelfth 
Dynasty during which all the arts, excepting perhaps architecture, reached 
a height of excellence never equaled in known Egypt before or again. 
Through an old inscription Amenemhet speaks to us: 

I was one who cultivated grain and loved the harvest god; 
The Nile greeted me and every valley; * 

None was hungry in my years, none thirsted then; 
Men dwelt in peace through that which I wrought, and conversed 
of me. 

His reward was a conspiracy among the Talleyrands and Pouches whom 
he had raised to high office. He put it down with a mighty hand, but left 
for his son, Polonius-like, a scroll of bitter counselan admirable formula 
for despotism, but a heavy price to pay for royalty: 

* Historians have helped themselves by further grouping the dynasties into periods: (i) 
The Old Kingdom, Dynasties I- VI (3500-2631 B.C.), followed by an interlude of chaos; 
(2) The Middle Kingdom, Dynasties XI-XIV (2375-1800 B.C.), followed by another 
chaotic interlude; (3) The Empire, Dynasties XVIII-XX (1580-1100 B.C.), followed by a 
period of divided rule from rival capitals; and (4; The Saite Age^ Dynasty XXVI, 663- 
525. All these dates except the last arc approximate, and Egyptologists amuse themselves 
by moving the earlier ones up and down by centuries. 


Hearken to that which I say to thce, 

That thou mayest be king of the earth, . . . 

That thou mayest increase good: 

Harden thyself against all subordinates 

The people give heed to him who terrorizes them; 

Approach them not alone. 

Fill not thy heart with a brother, 

Know not a friend; . . . 

When thou sleepest, guard for thyself thine own heart; 

For a man hath no friend in the day of evil." 

This stern ruler, who seems to us so human across four thousand years, 
established a system of administration that held for half a millennium. 
Wealth grew again, and then art; Senusret I built a great canal from the 
Nile to the Red Sea, repelled Nubian invaders, and erected great temples at 
Hcliopolis, Abydos, and Karnak; ten colossal seated figures of him have 
cheated time, and litter the Cairo Museum. Another Senusret the Third- 
began the subjugation of Palestine, drove back the recurrent Nubians, 
and raised a stele or slab at the southern frontier, "not from any desire that 
ye should worship it, but that ye should fight for it." 37 Amenemhet III, a 
great administrator, builder of canals and irrigation, put an end (perhaps 
too effectively) to the power of the barons, and replaced them with 
appointees of the king. Thirteen years after his death Egypt was plunged 
into disorder by a dispute among rival claimants to the throne, and the 
Middle Kingdom ended in two centuries of turmoil and disruption. Then 
the Hyksos, nomads from Asia, invaded disunited Egypt, set fire to the 
cities, razed the temples, squandered the accumulated wealth, destroyed 
much of the accumulated art, and for two hundred years subjected the 
Nile valley to the rule of the "Shepherd Kings." Ancient civilizations 
were little isles in a sea of barbarism, prosperous settlements surrounded 
by hungry, envious and warlike hunters and herders; at any moment the 
wall of defense might be broken down. So the Kassites raided Babylonia, 
the Gauls attacked Greece and Rome, the Huns overran Italy, the Mongols 
came down upon Peking. 

Soon, however, the conquerors in their turn grew fat and prosperous, 
and lost control; the Egyptians rose in a war of liberation, expelled the 
Hyksos, and established that Eighteenth Dynasty which was to lift Egypt 
to greater wealth, power and glory than ever before. 


5. The Empire 
The great queen Thutmose IllThe zenith of Egypt 

Perhaps the invasion had brought another rejuvenation by the infusion 
of fresh blood; but at the same time the new age marked the beginning 
of a thousand-year struggle betwen Egypt and Western Asia. Thutmose 
I not only consolidated the power of the new empire, but on the ground 
that western Asia must be controlled to prevent further interruptions- 
invaded Syria, subjugated it from the coast to Carchemish, put it under 
guard and tribute, and returned to Thebes laden with spoils and the glory 
that always comes from the killing of men. At the end of his thirty-year 
reign he raised his daughter Hatshepsut to partnership with him on the 
throne. For a time her husband and step-brother ruled as Thutmose II, 
and dying, named as his successor Thutmose HI, son of Thutmose I by a 
concubine." But Hatshepsut set this high-destined youngster aside, assumed 
full royal powers, and proved herself a king in everything but gender. 

Even this exception was not conceded by her. Since sacred tradition 
required that every Egyptian ruler should be a son of the great god Amon, 
Hatshepsut arranged to be made at once male and divine. A biography 
was invented for her by which Amon had descended upon Hatshepsut's 
mother Ahmasi in a flood of perfume and light; his attentions had been 
gratefully received; and on his departure he had announced that Ahmasi 
would give birth to a daughter in whom all the valor and strength of the 
god would be made manifest on earth." To satisfy the prejudices of her 
people, and perhaps the secret desire of her heart, the great Queen had 
herself represented on the monuments as a bearded and breastless warrior; 
and though the inscriptions referred to her with the feminine pronoun, 
they did not hesitate to speak of her as "Son of the Sun" and "Lord of the 
Two Lands." When she appeared in public she dressed in male garb, and 
wore a beard. 40 

She had a right to determine her own sex, for she became one of the 
most successful and beneficent of Egypt's many rulers. She maintained 
internal order without undue tyranny, and external peace without loss. 
She organized a great expedition to Punt (presumably the eastern coast of 
Africa), giving new markets to her merchants and new delicacies to her 
people. She helped to beautify Karnak, raised there two majestic obelisks, 


built at Der-el-Bahri the stately temple which her father had designed, 
and repaired some of the damage that had been done to older temples by 
the Hyksos kings. "I have restored that which was in ruins," one of her 
proud inscriptions tells us; "I have raised up that which was unfinished 
since the Asiatics were in the midst of the Northland, overthrowing that 
which had been made." 41 Finally she built for herself a secret and ornate 
tomb among the sand-swept mountains on the western side of the Nile, 
in what came to be called "The Valley of the Kings' Tombs"; her succes- 
sors followed her example, until some sixty royal sepulchres had been cut 
into the hills, and the city of the dead began to rival living Thebes in 

'( population. The "West End" in Egyptian cities was the abode of dead 

j aristocrats; to "go west" meant to die. 

For twenty-two years the Queen ruled in wisdom and peace; Thutmose 
III followed with a reign of many wars. Syria took advantage of Hatshep- 
sut's death to revolt; it did not seem likely to the Syrians that Thutmose, 
a lad of twenty-two, would be able to maintain the empire created by his 
father. But Thutmose set off in the very year of his accession, marched 
his army through Kantara and Gaza at twenty miles a day, and confronted 
the rebel forces at Har-Mcgiddo (i.e., Mt. Megiddo), a little town so 
strategically placed between the rival Lebanon ranges on the road from 
Egypt to the Euphrates that it has been the Ar-mageddon of countless wars 
from that day to General Allenby's. In the same pass where in 1918 the 
British defeated the Turks, Thutmose III, 3397 years before, defeated the 
Syrians and their allies. Then Thutmose marched victorious through 
western Asia, subduing, taxing and levying tribute, and returned to Thebes 
in triumph six months after his departure.* 4 * 

This was the first of fifteen campaigns in which the irresistible Thutmose 
made Egypt master of the Mediterranean world. Not only did he conquer, 
but he organized; everywhere he left doughty garrisons and capable gov- 
ernors. The first man in known history to recognize the importance of sea 
power, he built a fleet that kept the Near East effectively in leash. The 
spoils that he seized became the foundation of Egyptian art in the period 
of the Empire; the tribute that he drained from Syria gave his people an 
epicurean ease, and created a new class of artists who filled all Egypt with 

* Allenby took twice as long to accomplish a similar result; Napoleon, attempting it at 
Acre, failed. 


precious things. We may vaguely estimate the wealth of the new imperial 
government when we learn that on one occasion the treasury was able to 
measure out nine thousand pounds of gold and silver alloy. 48 Trade flour- 
ished in Thebes as never before; the temples groaned with offerings; and 
at Karnak the lordly Promenade and Festival Hall rose to the greater glory 
of god and king. Then the King retired from the battlefield, designed 
exquisite vases, and gave himself to internal administration. His vizier or 
prime minister said of him, as tired secretaries were to say of Napoleon: 
"Lo, His Majesty was one who knew what happened; there was nothing 
of which he was ignorant; he was the god of knowledge in everything; 
there was no matter that he did not carry out." 43 * He passed away after 
a rule of thirty-two (some say fifty-four) years, having made Egyptian 
leadership in the Mediterranean world complete. 

After him another conqueror, Amenhotep II, subdued again certain 
idolaters of liberty in Syria, and returned to Thebes with seven captive 
kings, still alive, hanging head downward from the prow of the imperial 
galley; six of them he sacrificed to Amon with his own hand. 4 * Then an- 
other Thutmose, who does not count; and in 1412 Amenhotep HI began 
a long reign in which the accumulated wealth of a century of mastery 
brought Egypt to the acme of her splendor. A fine bust in the British 
Museum shows him as a man at once of refinement and of strength, able 
to hold firmly together the empire bequeathed to him, and yet living in 
an atmosphere of comfort and elegance that might have been envied by 
Petronius or the Medici. Only the exhuming of Tutenkhamon's relics 
could make us credit the traditions and records of Amenhotep's riches 
and luxury. In his reign Thebes was as majestic as any city in history. 
Her streets crowded with merchants, her markets filled with the goods of 
the world, her buildings "surpassing in magnificence all those of ancient or 
modern capitals," 415 her imposing palaces receiving tribute from an endless 
chain of vassal states, her massive temples "enriched all over with gold" 46 
and adorned with ever)" art, her spacious villas and costly chateaux, her 
shaded promenades and artificial lakes providing the scene for sumptuous 
displays of fashion that anticipated Imperial Rome 47 such was Egypt's 
capital in the days of her glory, in the reign before her fall. 



1. Agriculture 

Behind these kings and queens were pawns; behind these temples, pal- 
aces and pyramids were the workers of the cities and the peasants of the 
fields.* Herodotus describes them optimistically as he found them about 
450 B.C. 

They gather in the fruits of the earth with less labor than any 
other people, ... for they have not the toil of breaking up the 
furrow with the plough, nor of hoeing, nor of any other work 
which all other men must labor at to obtain a crop of corn; but 
when the river has come of its own accord and irrigated their fields, 
and having irrigated them has subsided, then each man sows his own 
land and turns his swine into it; and when the seed has been trod- 
den into it by the swine he waits for harvest time; then ... he 
gathers it in. 48 

As the swine trod in the seed, so apes were tamed and taught to pluck 
fruit from the trees." And the same Nile that irrigated the fields deposited 
upon them, in its inundation, thousands of fish in shallow pools; even the 
same net with which the peasant fished during the day was used around 
his head at night as a double protection against mosquitoes." Neverthe- 
less it was not he who profited by the bounty of the river. Every acre of 
the soil belonged to the Pharaoh, and other men could use it only by his kind 
indulgence; every tiller of the earth had to pay him an annual tax of ten 81 
or twenty" per cent in kind. Large tracts were owned by the feudal 
barons or other wealthy men; the size of some of these estates may be 
judged from the circumstance that one of them had fifteen hundred cows. 54 
Cereals, fish and meat were the chief items of diet. One fragment tells the 
school-boy what he is permitted to eat; it includes thirty-three forms of 
flesh, forty-eight baked meats, and twenty-four varieties of drink. 85 The 
rich washed down their meals with wine, the poor with barley beer." 

The lot of the peasant was hard. The "free" farmer was subject only 
to the middleman and the tax-collector, who dealt with him on the most 
time-honored of economic principles, taking "all that the traffic would 

* The population of Egypt in the fourth century before Christ is estimated at some 
[ 7,000,000 souls. 48 


bear" out of the produce of the land. Here is how a complacent contempo- 
rary scribe conceived the life of the men who fed ancient Egypt: 

Dost thou not recall the picture of the farmer when the tenth 
of his grain is levied? Worms have destroyed half the wheat, and 
the hippopotami have eaten the rest; there are swarms of rats in the 
fields, the grasshoppers alight there, the cattle devour, the little birds 
pilfer; and if the farmer loses sight for an instant of what remains 
on the ground, it is carried off by robbers; moreover, the thongs 
which bind the iron and the hoe are worn out, and the team has died 
at the plough. It is then that the scribe steps out of the boat at the 
landing-place to levy the tithe, and there come the Keepers of the 
Doors of the (King's) Granary with cudgels, and Negroes with 
ribs of palm-leaves, crying, "Come now, come!" There is none, and 
they throw the cultivator full length upon the ground, bind him, 
drag him to the canal, and fling him in head first; his wife is bound 
with him, his children are put into chains. The neighbors in the 
meantime leave him and fly to save their grain." 

It is a characteristic bit of literary exaggeration; but the author might 
have added that the peasant was subject at any time to the corvee, doing 
forced labor for the King, dredging the canals, building roads, tilling the 
royal lands, or dragging great stones and obelisks for pyramids, temples 
and palaces. Probably a majority of the laborers in the field were mod- 
erately content, accepting their poverty patiently. Many of them were 
slaves, captured in the wars or bonded for debt; sometimes slave-raids were 
organized, and women and children from abroad were sold to the highest 
bidder at home. An old relief in the Leyden Museum pictures a long 
procession of Asiatic captives passing gloomily into the land of bondage: 
one sees them still alive on that vivid stone, their hands tied behind their 
backs or their heads, or thrust through rude handcuffs of wood; their 
faces empty with the apathy that has known the last despair. 

2. Industry 

Miners Manufactures Workers Engineers Transport-- 
Postal serviceCommerce and financeScribes 

Slowly, as the peasants toiled, an economic surplus grew, and food was 
laid aside for workers in industry and trade. Having no minerals, Egypt 


sought them in Arabia and Nubia. The great distances offered no tempta- 
tion to private initiative, and for many centuries mining was a government 
monopoly." Copper was mined in small quantities,"* iron was imported 
from the Hittites, gold mines were found along the eastern coast, in Nubia, 
and in every vassal treasury. Diodorus Siculus (56 B.C.) describes Egyptian 
miners following with lamp and pick the veins of gold in the earth, chil- 
dren carrying up the heavy ore, stone mortars pounding it to bits, old men 
and women washing the dirt away. We cannot tell to what extent 
nationalistic exaggeration distorts the famous passage: 

The kings of Egypt collect condemned prisoners, prisoners of 
war and others who, beset by false accusations, have been in a fit 
of anger thrown into prison. These sometimes alone, sometimes 
with their entire familythey send to the gold mines, partly to 
exact a just vengeance for crimes committed by the condemned, 
partly to secure for themselves a big revenue through their toil. 
... As these workers can take no care of their bodies, and have 
not even a garment to hide their nakedness, there is no one who, 
seeing these luckless people, would not pity them because of the 
excess of their misery, for there is no forgiveness or relaxation at 
all for the sick, or the maimed, or the old, or for woman's weakness; 
but all with blows are compelled to stick to their labor until, worn 
out, they die in their servitude. Thus the poor wretches even ac- 
count the future more dreadful than the present because of the 
excess of their punishment, and look to death as more desirable 
than life. 60 

In its earliest dynasties Egypt learned the art of fusing copper with 
tin to make bronze: first, bronze weapons swords, helmets and shields; 
then bronze tools wheels, rollers, levers, pulleys, windlasses, wedges, 
lathes, screws, drills that bored the toughest diorite stone, saws that cut 
the massive slabs of the sarcophagi. Egyptian workers made brick, cement 
and plaster of Paris; they glazed pottery, blew glass, and glorified both 
with color. They were masters in the carving of wood; they made every- 
thing from boats and carriages, chairs and beds, to handsome coffins that 
almost invited men to die. Out of animal skins they made clothing, 
quivers, shields and seats; all the arts of the tanner are pictured on the walls 
of the tombs; and the curved knives represented there in the tanner's hand 
are used by cobblers to this day. 81 From the papyrus plant Egyptian 


artisans made ropes, mats, sandals and paper. Other workmen developed 
the arts of enameling and varnishing, and applied chemistry to industry. 
Still others wove tissues of the subtlest weave in the history of the textile 
art; specimens of linen woven four thousand years ago show today, despite 
time's corrosion, "a weave so fine that it requires a magnifying glass to dis- 
tinguish it from silk; the best work of the modern machine-loom is coarse 
in comparison with this fabric of the ancient Egyptian hand-loom."" "If," < 
says Peschel, "we compare the technical inventory of the Egyptians with 
our own, it is evident that before the invention of the steam-engine we 
scarcely excelled them in anything." 8 * 

The workers were mostly freemen, partly slaves. In general every 
trade was a caste, as in modern India, and sons were expected to follow 
and take over the occupations of their fathers. 84 * The great wars brought 
in thousands of captives, making possible the large estates and the triumphs 
of engineering. Ramcses HI presented 1 13,000 slaves to the temples during 
the course of his reign. 80 The free artisans were usually organized for 
the specific undertaking by a "chief workman" or overseer, who sold their 
labor as a group and paid them individually. A chalk tablet in the British 
Museum contains a chief workman's record of forty-three workers, listing 
their absences and their causes "ill," or "sacrificing to the the god," or just 
plain "lazy." Strikes were frequent. Once, their pay being long overdue, 
the workmen besieged the overseer and threatened him. "We have been 
driven here by hunger and thirst," they told him; "we have no clothes, we 
have no oil, we have no food. Write to our lord the Pharaoh on the sub- 
ject, and write to the governor" (of the nome) "who is over us, that they 
may give us something for our sustenance."" 7 A Greek tradition reports a 
great revolt in Egypt, in which the slaves captured a province, and held it 
so long that time, which sanctions everything, gave them legal ownership 
of it; but of this revolt there is no record in Egyptian inscriptions. 88 It is 
surprising that a civilization so ruthless in its exploitation of labor should 
have known or recordedso few revolutions. 

Egyptian engineering was superior to anything known to the Greeks or 
Romans, or to Europe before the Industrial Revolution; only our time has 
excelled it, and we may be mistaken. Senusret III, for example, builtf a 
wall twenty-seven miles long to gather into Lake Moeris the waters of 

* "If any artisan," adds Diodorus, "takes part in public affairs he is severely beaten." 68 
t This word, when used in reference to rulers, must always be understood as a euphemism. 


the Fayum basin, thereby reclaiming 25,000 acres of marsh land for cul- 
tivation, and providing a vast reservoir for irrigation.* Great canals were 
constructed, some from the Nile to the Red Sea; the caisson was used for 
digging, 10 and obelisks weighing a thousand tons were transported over 
great distances. If we may credit Herodotus, or judge from later under- 
takings of the same kind represented in the reliefs of the Eighteenth 
Dynasty, these immense stones were drawn on greased beams by thousands 
of slaves, and raised to the desired level on inclined approaches beginning 
far away. 71 Machinery was rare because muscle was cheap. See, in one 
relief, eight hundred rowers in twenty-seven boats drawing a barge laden 
with two obelisks; 78 this is the Eden to which our romantic machine- 
wreckers would return. Ships a hundred feet long by half a hundred 
feet wide plied the Nile and the Red Sea, and finally sailed the Mediter- 
ranean. On land goods were transported by human muscle, later by 
donkeys, later by the horse, which probably the Hyksos brought to Egypt; 
the camel did not appear till Ptolemaic days. 73 The poor man walked, or 
paddled his simple boat; the rich man rode in sedan-chairs carried by 
slaves, or later in chariots clumsily made with the weight placed entirely 
in front of the axle. 74 

There was a regular postal service; an ancient papyrus says, "Write to 
me by the letter-carrier." 76 Communication, however, was difficult; roads 
were few and bad, except for the military highwa yAntrough Gaza to 
the Euphrates; 78 and the serpentine form of the Nile, which was the main 
highroad of Egypt, doubled the distance from town to town. Trade was 
comparatively primitive; most of it was by barter in village bazaars. For- 
eign commerce grew slowly, restricted severely by the most up-to-date 
tariff walls; the various kingdoms of the Near East believed strongly in the 
"protective principle," for customs dues were a mainstay of their royal 
treasuries. Nevertheless Egypt grew rich by importing raw materials and 
exporting finished products; Syrian, Cretan and Cypriote merchants 
crowded the markets of Egypt, and Phoenician galleys sailed up the Nile 
to the busy wharves of Thebes. 77 

Coinage had not yet developed; payments, even of the highest salaries, 
were made in goods corn, bread, yeast, beer, etc. Taxes were collected 
in kind, and the Pharaoh's treasuries were not a mint of money, but store- 
houses of a thousand products from the fields and shops. After the influx 
of precious metals that followed the conquests of Thutmose HI, merchants 


began to pay for goods with rings or ingots of gold, measured by weight 
at every transaction; but no coins of definite value guaranteed by the state 
arose to facilitate exchange. Credit, however, was highly developed; 
written transfers frequently took the place of barter or payment; scribes 
were busy everywhere accelerating business with legal documents of ex- 
change, accounting and finance. 

Every visitor to the Louvre has seen the statue of the Egyptian scribe, 
squatting on his haunches, almost completely nude, dressed with a pen 
behind the car as reserve for the one he holds in his hand. He keeps record 
of work done and goods paid, of prices and costs, of profits and loss; he 
counts the cattle as they move to the slaughter, or corn as it is measured 
out in sale; he draws up contracts and wills, and makes out his master's 
income-tax; verily there is nothing new under the sun. He is sedulously 
attentive and mechanically industrious; he has just enough intelligence 
not to be dangerous. His life is monotonous, but he consoles himself by 
writing essays on the hardships of the manual worker's existence, and 
the princely dignity of those whose food is paper and whose blood is ink. 

3. Government 
The bureaucratsLaw The vizierThe pharaoh 

With these scribes as a clerical bureaucracy the Pharaoh and the pro- 
vincial nobles maintained law and order in the state. Ancient slabs show 
such clerks taking the census, and examining income-tax returns. Through 
Nilometcrs that measured the rise of the river, the scribe-officials forecast 
the size of the harvest, and estimated the government's future revenue; 
they allotted appropriations in advance to governmental departments, 
supervised industry and trade, and in some measure achieved, almost at 
the outset of history, a planned economy regulated by the state. 78 

Civil and criminal legislation were highly developed, and already in the 
Fifth Dynasty the law of private property and bequest was intricate and 
precise. 79 As in our own days, there was absolute equality before the 
law whenever the contesting parties had equal resources and influence. 
The oldest legal document in the world is a brief, in the British Museum, 
presenting to the court a complex case in inheritance. Judges required 
cases to be pled and answered, reargued and rebutted, not in oratory but 
in writingwhich compares favorably with our windy litigation. Perjury 


was punished with death. 80 There were regular courts, rising from local 
judgment-seats in the nomes to supreme courts at Memphis, Thebes, or 
Heliopolis. 81 Torture was used occasionally as a midwife to truth; 88 beating 
with a rod was a frequent punishment, mutilation by cutting off nose or 
ears, hand or tongue, was sometimes resorted to, 83 or exile to the mines, 
or death by strangling, empaling, beheading, or burning at the stake; the 
extreme penalty was to be embalmed alive, to be eaten slowly by an in- 
escapable coating of corrosive natron. 84 Criminals of high rank were saved 
the shame of public execution by being permitted to kill themselves, as in 
samurai Japan. 88 We find no signs of any system of police; even the stand- 
ing army always small because of Egypt's protected isolation between 
deserts and seas was seldom used for internal discipline. Security of life 
and property, and the continuity of law and government, rested almost 
entirely on the prestige of the Pharaoh, maintained by the schools and the 
church. No other nation except China has ever dared to depend so 
largely upon psychological discipline. 

It was a well-organized government, with a better record of duration 
than any other in history. At the head of the administration was the 
Vizier, who served at once as prune minister, chief justice, and head of 
the treasury; he was the court of last resort under the Pharaoh himself. 
A tomb relief shows us the Vizier leaving his house early in the morning 
to hear the petitions of the poor, "to hear," as the inscription reads, "what 
the people say in their demands, and to make no distinction between small 
and great." 80 A remarkable papyrus roll, which comes down to us from 
the days of the Empire, purports to be the form of address (perhaps it is 
but a literary invention) with which the Pharaoh installed a new Vizier: 

Look to the office of the Vizier; be watchful over all that is done 
therein. Behold, it is the established support of the whole land. . . . 
The Vizierate is not sweet; it is bitter. . . . Behold, it is not to 
show respect-of-pcrsons to princes and councillors; it is not to make 
for himself slaves of any people. . . . Behold, when a petitioner 
comes from Upper or Lower Egypt ... see thou to it that every- 
thing is done in accordance with law, that everything is done ac- 
cording to the custom thereof, (giving) to (every man) his right. 
... It is an abomination of the god to show partiality. . . . Look 
upon him who is known to thee like him who is unknown to thce; 
and him who is near the King like him who is far from (his House). 


Behold, a prince who does this, he shall endure here in this place. 
. . . The dread of a prince is that he does justice. . . . (Behold 
the regulation) that is laid upon thee.* 7 

The Pharaoh himself was the supreme court; any case might under 
certain circumstances be brought to him, if the plaintiff was careless of 
expense. Ancient carvings show us the "Great House" from which he 
ruled, and in which the offices of the government were gathered; from this 
Great House, which the Egyptians called Pero and which the Jews trans- 
lated Pharaoh, came the title of the emperor. Here he carried on an 
arduous routine of executive work, sometimes with a schedule as rigorous 
as Chandragupta's, Louis XIV's or Napoleon's. 88 When he traveled the 
nobles met him at the feudal frontiers, escorted and entertained him, and 
gave him presents proportionate to their expectations; one lord, says a 
proud inscription, gave to Amenhotep II "carriages of silver and gold, 
statues of ivory and ebony . . . jewels, weapons, and works of art," 680 
shields, 140 bronze daggers, and many vases of precious metal. 8 " The 
Pharaoh reciprocated by taking one of the baron's sons to live with him 
at court a subtle way of exacting a hostage of fidelity. The oldest of 
the courtiers constituted a Council of Elders called Saru, or The Great 
Ones, who served as an advisory cabinet to the king.* Such counsel was 
in a sense superfluous, for the Pharaoh, with the help of the priests, assumed 
divine descent, powers and wisdom; this alliance with the gods was the 
secret of his prestige. Consequently he was greeted with forms of address 
always flattering, sometimes astonishing, as when, in The Story of Sinuhe, 
a good citizen hails him: "O long-living King, may the Golden One" 
(Hathor the goddess) "give life to thy nose." 81 

As became so godlike a person, the Pharaoh was waited upon by a vari- 
ety of aides, including generals, launderers, bleachers, guardians of the 
imperial wardrobe, and other men of high degree. Twenty officials col- 
laborated to take care of his toilet: barbers who were permitted only to 
shave him and cut his hair, hairdressers who adjusted the royal cowl and 
diadem to his head, manicurists who cut and polished his nails, perfumers 
who deodorized his body, blackened his eyelids with kohl, and reddened 
his cheeks and lips with rouge. 01 One tomb inscription describes its occu- 
pant as "Overseer of the Cosmetic Box, Overseer of the Cosmetic Pencil, 
Sandal-Bearer to the King, doing in the matter of the King's sandals to the 
satisfaction of his Law." 06 So pampered, he tended to degenerate, and some- 


times brightened his boredom by manning the imperial barge with young 
women clad only in network of a large mesh. The luxury of Amenhotep 
III prepared for the debacle of Ikhnaton. 

4. Morals 

Royal incest The harem Marriage The position of woman 
The matriarchate in Egypt Sexual morality 

The government of the Pharaohs resembled that of Napoleon, even to 
the incest. Very often the king married his own sister occasionally his 
own daughter to preserve the purity of the royal blood. It is difficult to 
say whether this weakened the stock. Certainly Egypt did not think so, 
after several thousand years of experiment; the institution of sister-mar- 
riage spread among the people, and as late as the second century after 
Christ two-thirds of the citizens of Arsinoe were found to be practising the 
custom. 94 The words brother and sister, in Egyptian poetry, have the same 
significance as lover and beloved among ourselves. 95 In addition to his sisters 
the Pharaoh had an abundant harem, recruited not only from captive 
women but from the daughters of the nobles and the gifts of foreign po- 
tentates; so Amenhotep III received from a prince of Naharina his eldest 
daughter and three hundred select maidens. 98 Some of the nobility imi- 
tated this tiresome extravagance on a small scale, adjusting their morals to 
their resources. 

For the most part the common people, like persons of moderate 
income everywhere, contented themselves with monogamy. Family life was 
apparently as well ordered, as wholesome in moral tone and influence, as 
in the highest civilizations of our time. Divorce was rare until the decadent 
dynasties. The husband could dismiss his wife without compensation if he 
detected her in adultery; if he divorced her for other reasons he was re- 
quired to turn over to her a substantial share of the family property. 
The fidelity of the husband so far as we can fathom such arcana was as 
painstaking as in any later culture, and the position of woman was more 
advanced than in most countries today. "No people, ancient or modern," 
said Max Miiller, "has given women so high a legal status as did the in- 
habitants of the Nile Valley."* 7 The monuments picture them eating and 
drinking in public, going about their affairs in the streets unattended 
and unharmed, and freely engaging in industry and trade. Greek travel- 

CHAP. Vin) EGYPT 165 

ers, accustomed to confine their Xanthippes narrowly, were amazed at 
this liberty; they jibed at the henpecked husbands of Egypt, and Diodorus 
Siculus, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, reported that along the Nile 
obedience of the husband to the wife was required in the marriage bond * 
a stipulation not necessary in America. Women held and bequeathed 
property in their own names; one of the most ancient documents in his- 
tory is the Third Dynasty will in which the lady Neb-sent transmits her 
lands to her children." Hatshepsut and Cleopatra rose to be queens, and 
ruled and ruined like kings. 

Sometimes a cynical note is heard in the literature. One ancient moralist 
warns his readers: 

Beware of a woman from abroad, who is not known in her city. 
Look not upon her when she comes, and know her not. She is like 
the vortex of deep waters, whose whirling is unfathomable. The 
woman whose husband is far away, she writes to thee every day. If 
there is no witness with her she arises and spreads her net. Oh, 
deadly crime if one hearkens! 100 

But the more characteristically Egyptian tone sounds in Ptah-hotep's 
instructions to his son: 

If thou art successful, and hast furnished thy house, and lovest the 
wife of thy bosom, then fill her stomach and clothe her back. . . . 
Make glad her heart during the time thou hast her, for she is a field 
profitable to its owner. ... If thou oppose her it will mean thy 

And the Boulak Papyrus admonishes the child with touching wisdom: 

Thou shah never forget thy mother. . . . For she carried thee long 
beneath her breast as a heavy burden; and after thy months were ac- 
complished she bore thee. Three long years she carried thee upon 
her shoulder, and gave thee her breast to thy mouth. She nurtured 
thee, and took no offense from thy uncleanliness. And when thou 
didst enter school, and wast instructed in the writings, daily she 
stood by the master with bread and beer from the house. 10 * 

It is likely that this high status of woman arose from the mildly matri- 
archal character of Egyptian society. Not only was woman full mistress 


in the house, but all estates descended in the female line; "even in late 
times," says Petrie, "the husband made over all his property and future 
earnings to his wife in his marriage settlement." 108 Men married their 
sisters not because familiarity had bred romance, but because they wished 
to enjoy the family inheritance, which passed down from mother to 
daughter, and they did not care to see this wealth give aid and comfort to 
strangers. 104 The powers of the wife underwent a slow diminution in the 
course of time, perhaps through contact with the patriarchal customs of 
the Hyksos, and through the transit of Egypt from agricultural isolation 
and peace to imperialism and war; under the Ptolemies the influence of the 
Greeks was so great that freedom of divorce, claimed in earlier times by 
the wife, became the exclusive privilege of the husband. Even then, how- 
ever, the change was accepted only by the upper classes; the Egyptian 
commoner adhered to matriarchal ways. 105 Possibly because of the mas- 
tery of woman over her own affairs, infanticide was rare; Diodorus, thought 
it a peculiarity of the Egyptians that every child born to them was reared, 
and tells us that parents guilty of infanticide were required by law to hold 
the dead child in their arms for three days and nights. 100 Families were 
large, and children swarmed in both hovels and palaces; the well-to-do 
were hard put to it to keep count of their offspring. 107 

Even in courtship the woman usually took the initiative. The love 
poems and letters that have come down to us are generally addressed by 
the lady to the man; she begs for assignations, she presses her suit directly, 
she formally proposes marriage. 108 "Oh my beautiful friend," says one 
letter, "my desire is to become, as thy wife, the mistress of all thy posses- 
sions." 10 * Hence modesty, as distinct from fidelity, was not prominent 
among the Egyptians; they spoke of sexual affairs with a directness alien 
to our late morality, adorned their very temples with pictures and bas- 
reliefs of startling anatomical candor, and supplied their dead with obscene 
literature to amuse them in the grave." Blood ran warm along the Nile: 
girls were nubile at ten, and premarital morals were free and easy; one 
courtesan, in Ptolemaic days, was reputed to have built a pyramid with her 
savings; even sodomy had its clientele. 111 Dancing-girls, in the manner of 
Japan, were accepted into the best male society as providers of enter- 
tainment and physical edification; they dressed in diaphanous robes, or 
contented themselves with anklets, bracelets and rings. 113 Evidences occur 
of religious prostitution on a small scale; as late as the Roman occupa- 


tion the most beautiful girl among the noble families of Thebes was chosen 
to be consecrated to Amon. When she was too old to satisfy the god she 
received an honorable discharge, married, and moved in the highest 
circles."* It was a civilization with different prejudices from our own. 

5. Manners 
Character Games Appearance Cosmetics Costume Jewelry 

If we try to visualize the Egyptian character we find it difficult to dis- 
tinguish between the ethics of the literature and the actual practices of life. 
Very frequently noble sentiments occur; a poet, for example, counsels his 

Give bread to him who has no field, 

And create for thyself a good name for ever more;" 1 

and some of the elders give very laudable advice to their children. A papyrus 
in the British Museum, known to scholars as "The Wisdom of Amenemope" 
(ca. 950 B.C.), prepares a student for public office with admonitions that prob- 
ably influenced the author or authors of the "Proverbs of Solomon." 

Be not greedy for a cubit of land, 

And trespass not on the boundary of the widow. . . . 

Plough the fields that thou mayest find thy needs, 

And receive thy bread from thine own threshing floor. 

Better is a bushel which God giveth to thee 

Than five thousand gained by transgression. . . . 

Better is poverty in the hand of God 

Than riches in the storehouse; 

And better are loaves when the heart is joyous 

Than riches in unhappiness. . . ."" 

Such pious literature did not prevent the normal operation of human greed. 
Plato described the Athenians as loving knowledge, the Egyptians as loving 
wealth; perhaps he was too patriotic. In general the Egyptians were the 
Americans of antiquity: enamored of size, given to gigantic engineering and 
majestic building, industrious and accumulative, practical even in the midst of 
many ultramundane superstitions. They were the arch-conservatives of his- 
tory; the more they changed, the more they remained the same; through 
forty centuries their artists copied the old conventions religiously. They ap- 
pear to us, from their monuments, to have been a matter-of-fact people, not 
given to non-theological nonsense. They had no sentimental regard for 


human life, and killed with the clear conscience of nature; Egyptian soldiers 
cut off the right hand, or the phallus, of a slain enemy, and brought it to the 
proper scribe that it might be put into the record to their credit. 11 " In the 
later dynasties the people, long accustomed to internal peace and to none but 
distant wars, lost all military habits and qualities, until at last a few Roman 
soldiers sufficed to master all Egypt. 1 " 

The accident that we know them chiefly from the remains in their tombs 
or the inscriptions on their temples has misled us into exaggerating their 
solemnity. We perceive from some of their sculptures and reliefs, and from 
their burlesque stories of the gods, 118 that they had a jolly turn for humor. 
They played many public and private games, such as checkers and dice; 118 they 
gave many modern toys to their children, like marbles, bouncing balls, ten- 
pins and tops; they enjoyed wrestling contests, boxing matches and bull- 
fights. 130 At feasts and recreations they were anointed by attendants, were 
wreathed with flowers, feted with wines, and presented with gifts. 

From the painting and the statuary we picture them as a physically 
vigorous people, muscular, broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, full-lipped, and 
flat-footed from going unshod. The upper classes are represented as 
fashionably slender, imperiously tall, with oval face, sloping forehead, 
regular features, a long, straight nose, and magnificent eyes. Their skin was 
white at birth (indicating an Asiatic rather than an African origin), but 
rapidly darkened under the Egyptian sun; 121 their artists idealized them in 
painting the men red, the women yellow; perhaps these colors were merely 
cosmetic styles. The man of the people, however, is pictured as short and 
squat, like the "Sheik-el-Belcd," formed by heavy toil and an unbalanced 
ration; his features are rough, his nose blunt and wide; he is intelligent but 
coarse. Perhaps, as in so many other instances, the people and their rulers 
were of different races: the rulers of Asiatic, the people of African, deriva- 
tion. The hair was dark, sometimes curly, but never woolly. Women 
bobbed their hair in the most modern mode; men shaved lips and chin, 
but consoled themselves with magnificent wigs. Often, in order to wear 
these more comfortably, they shaved the head; even the queen consort 
(e.g., Ikhnaton's mother Tiy) cut off all her hair to wear more easily the 
royal wig and crown. It was a matter of rigid etiquette that the king 
should have the biggest wig. 128 

According to their means they repaired the handiwork of nature 
with subtle cosmetic art. Faces were rouged, lips were painted, nails were 
colored, hair and limbs were oiled; even in the sculptures the Egyptian 


women have painted eyes. Those who could afford it had seven creams 
and two kinds of rouge put into their tombs when they died. The re- 
mains abound in toilet sets, mirrors, razors, hair-curlers, hair-pins, combs, 
cosmetic boxes, dishes and spoons made of wood, ivory, alabaster or 
bronze, and designed in delightful and appropriate forms. Eye-paint still 
survives in some of the tubes. The kohl that women use today for paint- 
ing the eyebrows and the face is a lineal descendant of the oil used by 
the Egyptians; it has come down to us through the Arabs, whose word for 
it, al-kohl, has given us our word alcohol. Perfumes of all sorts were 
used on the body and the clothes, and homes were made fragrant with 
incense and myrrh. 1 * 

Their clothing ran through every gradation from primitive nudity to 
the gorgeous dress of Empire days. Children of both sexes went about, 
till their teens, naked except for ear-rings and necklaces; the girls, however, 
showed a beseeming modesty by wearing a string of beads around the 
middle." 4 Servants and peasants limited their everyday wardrobe to a 
loin-cloth. Under the Old Kingdom free men and women went naked 
to the navel, and covered themselves from waist to knees with a short, tight 
skirt of white linen. 125 Since shame is a child of custom rather than of 
nature, these simple garments contented the conscience as completely as 
Victorian petticoats and corsets, or the evening dress of the contemporary 
American male; "our virtues lie in the interpretation of the time." Even 
the priests, in the first dynasties, wore nothing but loin-cloths, as we see 
from the statue of Ranofcr. 130 When wealth increased, clothing increased; 
the Middle Kingdom added a second and larger skirt over the first, and 
the Empire added a covering for the breast, with now and then a cape. 
Coachmen and grooms took on formidable costumes, and ran through 
the streets in full livery to clear a way for the chariots of their masters. 
Women, in the prosperous dynasties, abandoned the tight skirt for a 
loose robe that passed over the shoulder and was joined in a clasp under 
the right breast. Flounces, embroideries and a thousand frills appeared, 
and fashion entered like a serpent to disturb the paradise of primitive 
nudity. 187 

Both sexes loved ornament, and covered neck, breast, arms, wrists and 
ankles with jewelry. As the nation fattened on the tribute of Asia and 
the commerce of the Mediterranean world, jewelry ceased to be restricted 
to the aristocracy, and became a passion with all classes. Every scribe and 


merchant had his seal of silver or gold; every man had a ring, every woman 
had an ornamental chain. These chains, as we see them in the museums 
today, are of infinite variety: some of them two to three inches, some 
of them five feet, in length; some thick and heavy, some "as slight and 
flexible as the finest Venetian lace." 188 About the time of the Eighteenth 
Dynasty ear-rings became de rigueur; every one had to have the ears 
pierced for them, not only girls and women, but boys and men. 128 Men as 
well as women decorated their persons with bracelets and rings, pendants 
and beads of costly stone. The women of ancient Egypt could learn very 
little from us in the matter of cosmetics and jewelry if they were rein- 
carnated among us today. 

6. Letters 

EducationSchools of government Paper and ink Stages in the 
development of writing Forms of Egyptian writing 

The priests imparted rudimentary instruction to the children of the 
well-to-do in schools attached to the temples, as in the Roman Catholic 
parishes of our age. 180 One high-priest, who was what we should term Min- 
ister or Secretary of Education, calls himself "Chief of the Royal Stable 
of Instruction." 181 In the ruins of a school which was apparently part of 
the Ramesseum a large number of shells has been found, still bearing 
the lessons of the ancient pedagogue. The teacher's function was to pro- 
duce scribes for the clerical work of the state. To stimulate his pupils he 
wrote eloquent essays on the advantages of education. "Give thy heart 
to learning, and love her like a mother," says one edifying papyrus, "for 
there is nothing so precious as learning." "Behold," says another, "there is 
no profession that is not governed; it is only the learned man who rules 
himself." It is a misfortune to be a soldier, writes an early bookworm; it 
is a weariness to till the earth; the only happiness is "to turn the heart to 
books during the daytime and to read during the night." 1 * 

Copy-books survive from the days of the Empire with the corrections 
of the masters still adorning the margins; the abundance of errors would 
console the modern schoolboy. 1 * The chief method of instruction was the 
dictation or copying of texts, which were written upon potsherds or lime- 
stone flakes. 184 The subjects were largely commercial, for the Egyptians 
were the first and greatest utilitarians; but the chief topic of pedagogic 


discourse was virtue, and the chief problem, as ever, was discipline. "Do 
not spend thy time in wishing, or thou wilt come to a bad end," we read 
in one of the copy-books. "Let thy mouth read the book in thy hand; 
take advice from those who know more than thou dost" this last is prob- 
ably one of the oldest phrases in any language. Discipline was vigorous, 
and based upon the simplest principles. "The youth has a back," says a 
euphemistic manuscript, "and attends when he is beaten, ... for the ears 
of the young are placed on the back." A pupil writes to his former 
teacher: "Thou didst beat my back, and thy instructions went into my 
ear." That this animal-training did not always succeed appears from a 
papyrus in which a teacher laments that his former pupils love books 
much less than beer. 1 * 

Nevertheless, a large number of the temple students were graduated 
from the hands of the priest to high schools attached to the offices of the 
state treasury. There, in the first known School of Government, the young 
scribes were instructed in public administration. On graduating they were 
apprenticed to officials, who taught them through plenty of work. Per- 
haps it was a better way of securing and training public servants than 
our modern selection of them by popularity and subserviency, and the 
noise of the hustings. In this manner Egypt and Babylonia developed, 
more or less simultaneously, the earliest school-systems in history; 130 not till 
the nineteenth century of our era was the public instruction of the young 
to be so well organized again. 

In the higher grades the student was allowed to use paper one of the 
main items of Egyptian trade, and one of the permanent gifts of Egypt 
to the world. The stem of the papyrus plant was cut into strips, other 
strips were placed crosswise upon these, the sheet was pressed, and 
paper, the very stuff (and nonsense) of civilization, was made. 187 How well 
they made it may be judged from the fact that manuscripts written by 
them five thousand years ago are still intact and legible. Sheets were com- 
bined into books by gumming the right edge of one sheet to the left edge 
of the next; in this way rolls were produced which were sometimes forty 
yards in length; they were seldom longer, for there were no verbose his- 
torians in Egypt. Ink, black and indestructible, was made by mixing 
water with soot and vegetable gums on a wooden palette; the pen was a 
simple reed, fashioned at the tip into a tiny brush. 1 * 

With these modern instruments the Egyptians wrote the most ancient 


of literatures. Their language had probably come in from Asia; the 
oldest specimens of it show many Semitic affinities. 180 The earliest writing 
was apparently pictographic an object was represented by drawing a pic- 
ture of it: e.g., the word for house (Egyptian per) was indicated by a 
small rectangle with an opening on one of the long sides. As some ideas 
were too abstract to be literally pictured, pictography passed into ideog- 
raphy: certain pictures were by custom and convention used to represent 
not the objects pictured but the ideas suggested by them; so the forepart 
of a lion meant supremacy (as in the Sphinx), a wasp meant royalty, and 
a tadpole stood for thousands. As a further development along this line, 
abstract ideas, which had at first resisted representation, were indicated 
by picturing objects whose names happened to resemble the spoken words 
that corresponded to the ideas; so the picture of a lute came to mean not 
only lute, but good, because the Egyptian word-sound for lute- nefer 
resembled the word-sound for good nofer. Queer rebus combinations 
grew out of these homonyms words of like sound but different meanings. 
Since the verb to be was expressed in the spoken language by the sound 
khopiru, the scribe, being puzzled to find a picture for so intangible a con- 
ception, split the word into parts, kho-pi-ru, expressed these by picturing 
in succession a sieve (called in the spoken language khau), a mat (pi), and 
a mouth (ru)\ use and wont, which sanctify so many absurdities, soon 
made this strange assortment of characters suggest the idea of being. In 
this way the Egyptian arrived at the syllable, the syllabic sign, and the 
syllabary i.e., a collection of syllabic signs; and by dividing difficult words 
into syllables, finding homonyms for these, and drawing in combina- 
tion the objects suggested by these syllabic sounds, he was able, in the 
course of time, to make the hieroglyphic signs convey almost any idea. 
Only one step remained to invent letters. The sign for a house meant 
at first the word for house per; then it meant the sound per, or p-r with 
any vowel in between, as a syllable in any word. Then the picture was 
shortened, and used to represent the sound po, pa, pu, pe or pi in any 
word; and since vowels were never written, this was equivalent to having 
a character for JP. By a like development the sign for a hand (Egyptian 
dot) came to mean do, da, etc., finally D; the sign for mouth (ro or ru) 
came to mean R; the sign for snake (zt) became Z; the sign for lake (shy) 
became Sh. . . . The result was an alphabet of twenty-four consonants, 
which passed with Egyptian and Phoenician trade to all quarters of the 
Mediterranean, and came down, via Greece and Rome, as one of the most 


precious parts of our Oriental heritage. 140 Hieroglyphics are as old as the 
earliest dynasties; alphabetic characters appear first in inscriptions left by 
the Egyptians in the mines of the Sinai peninsula, variously dated at 2500 
and 1500 B.C. 141 * 

Whether wisely or not, the Egyptians never adopted a completely 
alphabetic writing; like modern stenographers they mingled pictographs, 
ideographs and syllabic signs with their letters to the very end of their 
civilization. This has made it difficult for scholars to read Egyptian, but 
it is quite conceivable that such a medley of longhand and shorthand 
facilitated the business of writing for those Egyptians who could spare the 
time to learn it. Since English speech is no honorable guide to English 
spelling, it is probably as difficult for a contemporary lad to learn the 
devious ways of English orthography as it was for the Egyptian scribe to 
memorize by use the five hundred hieroglyphs, their secondary syllabic 
meanings, and their tertiary alphabetic uses. In the course of time a more 
rapid and sketchy form of writing was developed for manuscripts, as dis- 
tinguished from the careful "sacred carvings" of the monuments. Since 
this corruption of hieroglyphic was first made by the priests and the 
temple scribes, it was called by the Greeks hieratic; but it soon passed into 
common use for public, commercial and private documents. A still more 
abbreviated and careless form of this script was developed by the common 
people, and therefore came to be known as demotic. On the monuments, 
however, the Egyptian insisted on having his lordly and lovely hiero- 
glyphicperhaps the most picturesque form of writing ever made. 

7. Literature 

Texts and librariesThe Egyptian SinbadThe Story of Sinuhe 

FictionAn amorous fragment Love poems History A 

literary revolution 

Most of the literature that survives from ancient Egypt is written in 
hieratic script. Little of it remains, and we are forced to estimate it 
from the fragments that do it only the blind justice of chance; perhaps time 
destroyed the Shakespeares of Egypt, and preserved only the poets laure- 
ate. A great official of the Fourth Dynasty is called on his tomb "Scribe 

* Sir Charles Marston believes, from his recent researches in Palestine, that the alphabet 
was a Semitic invention, and credits it, on highly imaginative grounds, to Abraham him- 


of the House of Books"; 148 we cannot tell whether this primeval library 
was a repository of literature, or only a dusty storehouse of public records 
and documents. The oldest extant Egyptian literature consists of the 
"Pyramid Texts" pious matter engraved on the walls in five pyramids 
of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties.* 148 Libraries have come down to us from 
as far back as 2000 B.C. papyri rolled and packed in jars, labeled, and 
ranged. on shelves; 1 " 5 in one such jar was found the oldest form of the story 
of Sinbad the Sailor, or, as we might rather call it, Robinson Crusoe. 

"The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor" is a simple autobiographical 
fragment, full of life and feeling. "How glad is he," says this ancient 
mariner, in a line reminiscent of Dante, "that relateth what he hath ex- 
perienced when the calamity hath passed!" 

I will relate to thee something that was experienced by me myself, 
when I had set out for the mines of the Sovereign and had gone 
down to the sea in a ship of 180 feet in length and 60 feet in breadth; 
and therein were 120 sailors of the pick of Egypt. They scanned the 
sky, they scanned the earth, and their hearts were more . . . than 
those of lions. They foretold a storm or ever it came, and a tempest 
when as yet it was not. 

A storm burst while we were yet at sea. . . . We flew before the 
wind and it made ... a wave eight cubits high. . . . 

Then the ship perished, and of them that were in it not one sur- 
vived. And I was cast onto an island by a wave of the sea, and I 
spent three days alone with mine heart as my companion. I slept 
under the shelter of a tree, and embraced the shade. Then I stretched 
forth my feet in order to find out what I could put into my mouth. 
I found figs and vines there, and all manner of fine leeks. . . . There 
were fish there and fowl, and there was nothing that was not in it. 
. . . When I had made me a fire-drill I kindled a fire and made a 
burnt-offering for the gods. 146 

Another tale recounts the adventures of Sinuhe, a public official who 
flees from Egypt at the death of Amenemhet I, wanders from country to 
country of the Near East, and, despite prosperity and honors there, suffers 
unbearably from lonesomeness for his native land. At last he gives up 
riches, and makes his way through many hardships back to Egypt. 

*A later group of funerary inscriptions, written in ink upon the inner sides of the 
wooden coffins used to inter certain nobles and magnates of the Middle Kingdom, have 
been gathered together by Breasted and others under the name of "Coffin Texts."" 4 


God, whosoever thou art, that didst ordain this flight, bring me 
again to the House (i.e., the Pharaoh). Peradventure thou wilt suffer 
me to see the place wherein mine heart dwelleth. What is a greater 
matter than that my corpse should be buried in the land wherein I 
was born? Come to mine aid! May good befall, may God show me 

In the sequel we find him home again, weary and dusty with many miles 
of desert travel, and fearful lest the Pharaoh reprove him for his long ab- 
sence from a land which, like all others, looked upon itself as the only 
civilized country in the world. But the Pharaoh forgives him, and extends 
to him every cosmetic courtesy: 

1 was placed in the house of a king's son, in which there was noble 
equipment, and a bath was therein. . . . Years were made to pass 
away from my body; I was shaved (?) and my hair was combed (?). 
A load (of dirt?) was given over to the desert, and the (filthy) 
clothes to the sand-farers. And I was arrayed in finest linen, and 
anointed with the best oil. 147 

Short stories are diverse and plentiful in the fragments that have come 
down to us of Egyptian literature. There arc marvelous tales of ghosts, 
miracles, and other fascinating concoctions, as credible as the detective stories 
that satisfy modern statesmen; there are high-sounding romances of princes 
and princesses, kings and queens, including the oldest known form of the tale 
of Cinderella, her exquisite foot, her wandering slipper, and her royal-hymen- 
eal denouement; 14 * there are fables of animals illustrating by their conduct the 
foibles and passions of humanity, and pointing morals sagely 148 a kind of 
premonitory plagiarism from /Esop and La Fontaine. Typical of the Egyptian 
mingling of natural and supernatural is the tale of Anupu and Bitiu, older and 
younger brothers, who live happily on their farm until Anupu's wife falls in 
love with Bitiu, is repulsed by him, and revenges herself by accusing him, to 
his brother, of having offered her violence. Gods and crocodiles come to 
Bitiu's aid against Anupu; but Bitiu, disgusted with mankind, mutilates himself 
to prove his innocence, retires Timon-like to the woods, and places his heart 
unreachably high on the topmost flower of a tree. The gods, pitying his lone- 
liness, create for him a wife of such beauty that the Nile falls in love with 
her, and steals a lock of her hair. Drifting down the stream, the lock is 
found by the Pharaoh, who, intoxicated by its scent, commands his henchmen 
to find the owner. She is found and brought to him, and he marries her. 
Jealous of Bitiu he sends men to cut down the tree on which Bitiu has placed 


his heart. The tree is cut down, and as the flower touches the earth Bitiu 
dies."* How little the taste of our ancestors differed from our own! 

The early literature of the Egyptians is largely religious; and the oldest 
Egyptian poems are the hymns of the Pyramid Texts. Their form is also 
the most ancient poetic form known to us that "parallelism of members," 
or repetition of the thought in different phrase, which the Hebrew poets 
adopted from the Egyptians and Babylonians, and immortalized in the 
Psalms. 151 As the Old passes into the Middle Kingdom, the literature tends 
to become secular and "profane." We catch some glimpse of a lost body 
of amorous literature in a fragment preserved to us through the laziness of 
a Middle Kingdom scribe who did not complete his task of wiping clear 
an old papyrus, but left legible some twenty-five lines that tell of a 
simple shepherd's encounter with a goddess. "This goddess," says the 
story, "met with him as he wended his way to the pool, and she had 
stripped off her clothes and disarrayed her hair." The shepherd reports 
the matter cautiously: 

"Behold ye, when I went down to the swamp. ... I saw a woman 
therein, and she looked not like a mortal being. My hair stood on 
end when I saw her tresses, because her color was so bright. Never 
will I do what she said; awe of her is in my body." 153 

The love songs abound in number and beauty, but as they celebrate 
chiefly the amours of brothers and sisters they will shock or amuse the 
modern ear. One collection is called "The Beautiful Joyous Songs of 
thy sister whom thy heart loves, who walks in the fields." An ostracon 
or shell dating back to the Nineteenth or Twentieth Dynasty plays a 
modern theme on the ancient chords of desire: 

The love of my beloved leaps on the bank of the stream. 

A crocodile lies in the shadows; 

Yet I go down into the water, and breast the wave. 

My courage is high on the stream, 

And the water is as land to my feet. 

It is her love that makes me strong. 

She is a book of spells to me. 

When I behold my beloved coming my heart is glad, 

My arms are spread apart to embrace her; 


My heart rejoices forever . . . since my beloved came. 

When I embrace her I am as one who is in Incense Land, 

As one who carries perfumes. 

When I kiss her, her lips are opened, 

And I am made merry without beer. 

Would that I were her Negress slave who is in attendance on her; 

So should I behold the hue of all her limbs. 168 

The lines have been arbitrarily divided here; we cannot tell from the 
external form of the original that it is verse. The Egyptians knew that 
music and feeling are the twin essences of poetry; if these were present, 
the outward shape did not matter. Often, however, the rhythm was ac- 
centuated, as we have seen, by "parallelism of members." Sometimes the 
poet used the device of beginning every sentence or stanza with the same 
word; sometimes he played like a punster with like sounds meaning unlike 
or incongruous things; and it is clear from the texts that the trick of 
alliteration is as old as the Pyramids. 1 " These simple forms were enough; 
with them the Egyptian poet could express almost every shade of that 
"romantic" love which Nietzsche supposed was an invention of the 
Troubadours. The Harris Papyrus shows that such sentiments could be 
expressed by a woman as well as by a man: 

I am thy first sister, 

And thou art to me as the garden 

Which I have planted with flowers 

And all sweet-smelling herbs. 

I directed a canal into it, 

That thou mightcst dip thy hand into it 

When the north wind blows cool. 

The beautiful place where we take a walk, 

When thy hand rests within mine, 

With thoughtful mind and joyous heart 

Because we walk together. 

It is intoxicating to me to hear thy voice, 

And my life depends upon hearing thee. 

Whenever I see thee 

It is better to me than food or drink."* 

All in all it is astonishing how varied the fragments are. Formal letters, 
legal documents, historical narratives, magic formulas, laborious hymns, books 


of devotion, songs of love and war, romantic novelettes, moral exhortations, 
philosophical treatises everything is represented here except epic and drama, 
and even of these one might by stretching a point find instances. The story 
of Rameses IFs dashing victories, engraved patiently in verse upon brick after 
brick of the great pylon at Luxor, is epic at least in length and dulness. In 
another inscription Rameses IV boasts that in a play he had defended Osiris 
from Set, and had recalled Osiris to life. 1 " Our knowledge does not allow us 
to amplify this hint. 

Historiography, in Egypt, is as old as history; even the kings of the pre- 
dynastic period kept historical records proudly. 3 " Official historians accom- 
panied the Pharaohs on their expeditions, never saw their defeats, and re- 
corded, or invented, the details of their victories; already the writing of his- 
tory had become a cosmetic art. As far back as 2500 B.C. Egyptian scholars 
made lists of their kings, named the years from them, and chronicled the out- 
standing events of each year and reign; by the time of Thutmose III these 
documents became full-fledged histories, eloquent with patriotic emotion. 1 " 
Egyptian philosophers of the Middle Kingdom thought both man and history 
old and effete, and mourned the lusty youth of their race; Khekheperre- 
Sonbu, a savant of the reign of Senusret II, about 2150 B.C., complained that 
all things had long since been said, and nothing remained for literature except 
repetition. "Would," he cried unhappily, "that I had words that are un- 
known, utterances and sayings in new language, that hath not yet passed 
away, and without that which hath been said repeatedly not an utterance 
that hath grown stale, what the ancestors have already said." 1 " 

Distance blurs for us the variety and changefulness of Egyptian lit- 
erature, as it blurs the individual differences of unfamiliar peoples. Never- 
theless, in the course of its long development Egyptian letters passed 
through movements and moods as varied as those that have disturbed the 
history of European literature. As in Europe, so in Egypt the language 
of everyday speech diverged gradually, at last almost completely, from 
that in which the books* of the Old Kingdom had been written. For a 
long time authors continued to compose in the ancient tongue; scholars 
acquired it in school, and students were compelled to translate the "classics" 
with the help of grammars and vocabularies, and with the occasional as- 
, sistance of "interlinears." In the fourteenth century B.C. Egyptian authors 
rebelled against this bondage to tradition, and like Dante and Chaucer 
dared to write in the language of the people; Ikhnaton's famous Hymn to 
the Sun is itself composed in the popular speech. The new literature was 
realistic, youthful, buoyant; it took delight in flouting the old forms and 


describing the new life. In time this language also became literary and 
formal, refined and precise, rigid and impeccable with conventions of 
word and phrase; once again the language of letters separated from the 
language of speech, and scholasticism flourished; the schools of Sa'ite Egypt 
spent half their time studying and translating the "classics" of Ikhnaton's 
day. 180 Similar transformations of the native tongue went on under the 
Greeks, under the Romans, under the Arabs; another is going on today. 
Panta rei all things flow; only scholars never change. 

8. Science 

Origins of Egyptian science Mathematics Astronomy and the 
calendar Anatomy and physiology Medicine, surgery 

and hygiene 

The scholars of Egypt were mostly priests, enjoying, far from the tur- 
moil of life, the comfort and security of the temples; and it was these 
priests who, despite all their superstitions, laid the foundations of Egyptian 
science. According to their own legends the sciences had been invented 
some 18,000 B.C. by Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, during his three- 
thousand-year-long reign on earth; and the most ancient books in each 
science were among the twenty thousand volumes composed by this 
learned deity.* 161 Our knowledge does not permit us to improve sub- 
stantially upon this theory of the origins of science in Egypt. 

At the very outset of recorded Egyptian history we find mathematics 
highly developed; the design and construction of the Pyramids involved a pre- 
cision of measurement impossible without considerable mathematical lore. 
The dependence of Egyptian life upon the fluctuations of the Nile led to 
careful records and calculations of the rise and recession of the river; sur- 
veyors and scribes were continually remeasuring the land whose boundaries 
had been obliterated by the inundation, and this measuring of the land was 
evidently the origin of geo-mctry. 1 * Nearly all the ancients agreed in ascrib- 
ing the invention of this science to the Egyptians. 104 Josephus, however, 
thought that Abraham had brought arithmetic from Chaldea (i.e., Mesopo- 
tamia) to Egypt; 1 " 5 and it is not impossible that this and other arts came to 
Egypt from "Ur of the Chaldees," or some other center of western Asia. 

* So we are assured by lamblichus (ca. 300 AJ>.) . Manetho, the Egyptian historian (ca. 
300 B.C.), would have considered this estimate unjust to the god; the proper number of 
Thoth's works, in his reckoning, was 36,000. The Greeks celebrated Thoth under the 
name of Hermes Trismegistus Hermes (Mercury) the Thrice-Great. 1 ' 12 


The figures used were cumbersome one stroke for i, two strokes for 2, ... 
nine strokes for 9, with a new sign for 10. Two 10 signs stood for 20, three 
10 signs for 30, ... nine for 90, with a new sign for 100. Two 100 signs stood 
for 200, three 100 signs for 300, . . . nine for 900, with a new sign for 1000. 
The sign for 1,000,000 was a picture of a man striking his hands above his 
head, as if to express amazement that such a number should exist. 108 The 
Egyptians fell just short of the decimal system; they had no zero, and never 
reached the idea of expressing all numbers with ten digits: e.g., they used 
twenty-seven signs to write 999- 107 They had fractions, but always with the 
numerator i; to express % they wrote l / 2 + 1 A- Multiplication and division 
tables are as old as the Pyramids. The oldest mathematical treatise known is 
the Ahmes Papyrus, dating back to 2000-1700 B.C.; but this in turn refers to 
mathematical writings five hundred years more ancient than itself. It illus- 
trates by examples the computation of the capacity of a barn or the area of a 
field, and passes to algebraic equations of the first degree. 108 Egyptian geome- 
try measured not only the area of squares, circles and cubes, but also the 
cubic content of cylinders and spheres; and it arrived at 3.16 as the value 
of ir. 16 * We enjoy the honor of having advanced from 3.16 to 3.1416 in four 
thousand years. 

Of Egyptian physics and chemistry we know nothing, and almost as little 
of Egyptian astronomy. The star-gazers of the temples seem to have con- 
ceived the earth as a rectangular box, with mountains at the corners uphold- 
ing the sky. 170 They made no note of eclipses, and were in general less ad- 
vanced than their Mesopotamian contemporaries. Nevertheless they knew 
enough to predict the day on which the Nile would rise, and to orient their 
temples toward that point on the horizon where the sun would appear on the 
morning of the summer solstice. 1 " Perhaps they knew more than they cared 
to publish among a people whose superstitions were so precious to their 
rulers; the priests regarded their astronomical studies as an esoteric and mys- 
terious science, which they were reluctant to disclose to the common world. 173 
For century after century they kept track of the position and movements of 
the planets, until their records stretched back for thousands of years. They 
distinguished between planets and fixed stars, noted in their catalogues stars 
of the fifth magnitude (practically invisible to the unaided eye), and charted 
what they thought were the astral influences of the heavens on the fortunes 
of men. From these observations they built the calendar which was to be 
another of Egypt's greatest gifts to mankind. 

They began by dividing the year into three seasons of four months each: 
first, tie rise, overflow and recession of the Nile; second, the period of cul- 
tivation; and third, the period of harvesting. To each of these months they 
assigned thirty days, as being the most convenient approximation to the lunar 

CHAP. VIIl) EGYPT 1 8 1 

month of twenty-nine and a half days; their word for month, like ours, was 
derived from their symbol for the moon.* At the end of the twelfth month 
they added five days to bring the year into harmony with the river and the 
sun." 4 As the beginning of their year they chose the day on which the Nile 
usually reached its height, and on which, originally, the great star Sirius 
(which they called Sothis) rose simultaneously with the sun. Since their 
calendar allowed only 365, instead of 36554, days to a year, this "heliacal 
rising" of Sirius (i.e., its appearance just before sunrise, after having been 
invisible for a number of days) came a day later every four years; and in 
this way the Egyptian calendar diverged by six hours annually from the 
actual calendar of the sky. The Egyptians never corrected this error. Many 
years later (46 B.C.) the Greek astronomers of Alexandria, by direction of 
Julius Caesar, improved this calendar by adding an extra day every fourth 
year; this was the "Julian Calendar." Under Pope Gregory XIII (1582) 
a more accurate correction was made by omitting this extra day (February 
zpth) in century years not divisible by 400; this is the "Gregorian Calendar" 
that we use today. Our calendar is essentially the creation of the ancient 

Despite the opportunities offered by embalming, the Egyptians made rela- 
tively poor progress in the study of the human body. They thought that the 
blood-vessels carried air, water, and excretory fluids, and they believed the 

* The clepsydra, or water-clock, was so old with the Egyptians that they attributed its 
invention to their handy god-of-all-tradcs, Thoth. The oldest clock in existence dates 
from Thutmose III, and is now in the Berlin Museum. It consists of a bar of wood, 
divided into six parts or hours, upon which a crosspiecc was so placed that its shadow on 
the bar would indicate the time of the morning or the afternoon. 178 

t Since the heliacal rising of Sirius occurred one day later, every four years, than the 
Egyptian calendar demanded, the error amounted to 365 days in 1460 years; on the com- 
pletion of this "Sothic cycle" (as the Egyptians called it) the paper calendar and the 
celestial calendar again agreed. Since we know from the Latin author Censorius that the 
heliacal rising of Sirius coincided in 139 A.D. with the beginning of the Egyptian calendar 
year, we may presume that a similar coincidence occurred every 1460 years previously 
i.e., in 1321 B.C., 2781 B.C., 4241 B.C., etc. And since the Egyptian calendar was apparently 
established in a year when the heliacal rising of Sirius took place on the first day of the 
first month, we conclude that that calendar came into operation in a year that opened a 
Sothic cycle. The earliest mention of the Egyptian calendar is in the religious texts in- 
scribed in the pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty. Since this dynasty is unquestionably 
earlier than 1321 B.C., the calendar must have been established in 2781 B.C., or 4241 B.C., or 
still earlier. The older date, once acclaimed as the first definite date in history, has been 
disputed by Professor ScharfF, and it is possible that we shall have to accept 2781 B.C. as 
the approximate birth-year of the Egyptian calendar. This would require a foreshorten- 
ing, by three or four hundred years, of the dates assigned above for the early dynasties 
and the great Pyramids. As the matter is very much in dispute, the chronology of the 
Cambridge Ancient History has been adopted in these pages. 


heart and bowels to be the seat of the mind; perhaps if we knew what they 
meant by these terms we should find them not so divergent from our own 
ephemeral certainties. They described with general accuracy the larger bones 
and viscera, and recognized the function of the heart as the driving power of 
the organism and the center of the circulatory system: "its vessels," says the 
Ebers Papyrus, 17 " "lead to all the members; whether the doctor lays his finger 
on the forehead, on the back of the head, on the hands, ... or on the feet, 
f everywhere he meets with the heart." From this to Leonardo and Harvey 
was but a step which took three thousand years. 

The glory of Egyptian science was medicine. Like almost everything 
else in the cultural life of Egypt, it began with the priests, and dripped 
with evidences of its magical origins. Among the people amulets were 
more popular than pills as preventive or curative of disease; disease was to 
them a possession by devils, and was to be treated with incantations. A 
cold for instance, could be exorcised by such magic words as: "Depart, 
cold, son of a cold, thou who breakest the bones, destroyest the skull, mak- 
est ill the seven openings of the head! . . . Go out on the floor, stink, stink, 
stink!" 177 a cure probably as effective as contemporary remedies for this 
ancient disease. From such depths we rise in Egypt to great physicians, 
surgeons and specialists, who acknowledged an ethical code that passed 
down into the famous Hippocratic oath. 178 Some of them specialized in 
obstetrics or gynecology, some treated only gastric disorders, some were 
oculists so internationally famous that Cyrus sent for one of them to 
come to Persia. 179 The general practitioner was left to gather the crumbs 
and heal the poor; in addition to which he was expected to provide cos- 
metics, hair-dyes, skin-culture, limb-beautification, and flea-exterminators. 180 

Several papyri devoted to medicine have come down to us. The most 
valuable of them, named from the Edwin Smith who discovered it, is a 
roll fifteen feet long, dating about 1600 B.C., and going back for its sources 
to much earlier works; even in its extant form it is the oldest scientific 
document known to history. It describes forty-eight cases in clinical 
surgery, from cranial fractures to injuries of the spine. Each case is treated 
in logical order, under the heads of provisional diagnosis, examination, 
semeiology, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and glosses on the terms used. 
The author notes, with a clarity unrivaled till the eighteenth century 
of our era, that control of the lower limbs is localized in the "brain" a 
word which here appears for the first time in literature. 1 * 1 

The Egyptians enjoyed a great variety of diseases, though they had to 
die of them without knowing their Greek names. The mummies and 


papyri tell of spinal tuberculosis, arteriosclerosis, gall-stones, small-pox, in- 
fantile paralysis, anemia, rheumatic arthritis, epilepsy, gout, mastoiditis, ap- 
pendicitis, and such marvelous affections as spondylitis deformans and 
achondroplasia. There are no signs of syphilis or cancer; but pyorrhea and 
dental caries, absent in the oldest mummies, become frequent in the later 
ones, indicating the progress of civilization. The atrophy and fusion of the 
bones of the small toe, often ascribed to the modern shoe, was common in 
ancient Egypt, where nearly all ages and ranks went barefoot."* 

Against these diseases the Egyptian doctors were armed with an abund- 
ant pharmacopoeia. The Ebers Papyrus lists seven hundred remedies for 
everything from snake-bite to puerperal fever. The Kahun Papyrus (ca. 
1850 B.C.) prescribes suppositories apparently used for contraception. 188 ' 
The tomb of an JEleventh Dynasty queen revealed a medicine chest con- 
taining vases, spoons, dried drugs, and roots. Prescriptions hovered between 
medicine and magic, and relied for their effectiveness in great part on the 
repulsiveness of the concoction. Lizard's blood, swine's ears and teeth, 
putrid meat and fat, a tortoise's brains, an old book boiled in oil, the milk 
of a lying-in woman, the water of a chaste woman, the excreta of men, 
donkeys, dogs, lions, cats and lice all these are found in the prescriptions. 
Baldness was treated by rubbing the head with animal fat. Some of these 
cures passed from the Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Greeks to the 
Romans, and fromthe Romans to us; we still swallow trustfully the strange 
mixtures that were brewed four thousand years ago on the banks of the 
Nile. 183 

The Egyptians tried to promote health by public sanitation,* by cir- 
cumcision of males, t lw and by teaching the people the frequent use of the 
enema. Diodorus Siculus 1 * 7 tells us: 

In order to prevent sicknesses they look after the health of their 
body by means of drenches, fastings and emetics, sometimes every 
day, and sometimes at intervals of three or four days. For they say 
that the larger part of the food taken into the body is superfluous, 
and that it is from this superfluous part that diseases are engendered.^ 

Pliny believed that this habit of taking enemas was learned by the 
Egyptians from observing the ibis, a bird that counteracts the constipating 

* Excavations reveal arrangements for the collection of rain-water and the disposal of 
sewage by a system of copper pipes. 18 * 

tEven the earliest tombs give evidence of this practice. 18 * 

J So old is the modern saw that we live on one-fourth of what we eat, and the doctors 
live on the rest. 


character of its food by using its long bill as a rectal syringe." 8 Herodotus 
reports that the Egyptians "purge themselves every month, three days 
successively, seeking to preserve health by emetics and enemas; for they 
suppose that all diseases to which men are subject proceed from the food 
they use." And this first historian of civilization ranks the Egyptians as, 
"next to the Libyans, the healthiest people in the world. 1 * 

9. Art 

Architecture Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, Empire and Saite 
sculpture Bas-relief Painting Minor arts Music The artists 

The greatest element in this civilization was its art. Here, almost at 
the threshold of history, we find an art powerful and mature, superior to 
that of any modern nation, and equaled only by that of Greece. At first 
the luxury of isolation and peace, and then, under Thutmose III and 
Rameses II, the spoils of oppression and war, gave to Egypt the oppor- 
tunity and the means for massive architecture, masculine statuary, and a 
hundred minor arts that so early touched perfection. The whole theory of 
progress hesitates before Egyptian art. 

Architecture* was the noblest of the ancient arts, because it combined in 
imposing form mass and duration, beauty and use. It began humbly in 
the adornment of tombs and the external decoration of homes. Dwellings 
were mostly of mud, with here and there some pretty woodwork (a 
Japanese lattice, a well-carved portal), and a roof strengthened with the 
tough and pliable trunks of the palm. Around the house, normally, was 
a wall enclosing a court; from the court steps led to the roof; from this 
the tenants passed down into the rooms. The well-to-do had private 
gardens, carefully landscaped; the cities provided public gardens for the 
poor, and hardly a home but had its ornament of flowers. Inside the house 
the walls were hung with colored mattings, and the floors, if the master 
could afford it, were covered with rugs. People sat on these rugs rather 
than on chairs; the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom squatted for their 
meals at tables six inches high, in the fashion of the Japanese; and ate with 
their fingers, like Shakespeare. Under the Empire, when slaves were 
cheap, the upper classes sat on high cushioned chairs, and had their servants 
hand them course after course. 190 

Stone for building was too costly for homes; it was a luxury reserved 
for priests and kings. Even the nobles, ambitious though they were, left 

* For the architecture of the Old Kingdom cf . sections I, i and 3 of this chapter. 


the greatest wealth and the best building materials to the temples; in con- 
sequence the palaces that overlooked almost every mile of the river in the 
days of Amenhotep III crumbled into oblivion, while the abodes of the 
gods and the tombs of the dead remained. By the Twelfth Dynasty the 
pyramid had ceased to be the fashionable form of sepulture. Khnumhotep 
(ca. 2180 B.C.) chose at Beni-Hasan the quieter form of a colonnade built 
into the mountainside; and this theme, once established, played a thou- 
sand variations among the hills on the western slope of the Nile. From the 
time of the Pyramids to the Temple of Hathor at Denderah i.e., for some 
three thousand years there rose out of the sands of Egypt such a suc- 
cession of architectural achievements as no civilization has ever surpassed. 

At Karnak and Luxor a riot of columns raised by Thutmose I and HI, 
Amenhotep III, Seti I, Rameses II and other monarchs from the Twelfth 
to the Twenty-second Dynasty; at Medinet-IIabu (ca. 1300 B.C.) a vast 
but less distinguished edifice, on whose columns an Arab village rested for 
centuries; at Abydos the Temple of Scti I, dark and sombre in its massive 
ruins; at Elephantine the little Temple of Khnum (ca. 1400 B.C.), "posi- 
tively Greek in its precision and elegance";" 1 at Dcr-el-Bahri the stately 
colonnades of Queen Hatshepsut; near it the Ramcsseum, another forest 
of colossal columns and statues reared by the architects and slaves of 
Rameses II; at Philce the lovely Temple of Isis (ca. 240 B.C.) desolate and 
abandoned now that the damming of the Nile at Assuan has submerged 
the bases of its perfect columns these are sample fragments of the many 
monuments that still adorn the valley of the Nile, and attest even in their 
ruins the strength and courage of the race that reared them. Here, perhaps, 
is an excess of pillars, a crowding of columns against the tyranny of the 
sun, a Far-Eastern aversion to symmetry, a lack of unity, a barbaric-mod- 
ern adoration of size. But here, too, are grandeur, sublimity, majesty and 
power; here are the arch and the vault, 108 used sparingly because not 
needed, but ready to pass on their principles to Greece and Rome and 
modern Europe; here are decorative designs never surpassed; 109 here are 
papyriform columns, lotiform columns, "proto-Doric" columns, 1 " 4 Caryatid 
columns, 186 Hathor capitals, palm capitals, clerestories, and magnificent 
architraves full of the strength and stability that are the very soul of archi- 
tecture's powerful appeal.* The Egyptians were the greatest builders 
in history. 

* A clerestory is that portion of a building which, being above the roof of the sur- 
rounding parts, admits light to the edifice by a series of openings. An architrave is the 
lowest part of an entablaturewhich is a superstructure supported by a colonnade. 


Some would add that they were also the greatest sculptors. Here at the 
outset is the Sphinx, conveying by its symbolism the leonine quality of 
some masterful Pharaohperhaps Khafre-Chephren; it has not only size, 
as some have thought, but character. The cannon-shot of the Mamelukes 
have broken the nose and shorn the beard, but nevertheless those gigantic 
features portray with impressive skill the force and dignity, the calm 
and sceptical maturity, of a natural king. Across those motionless features 
a subtle smile has hovered for five thousand years, as if already the un- 
known artist or monarch had understood all that men would ever under- 
stand about men. It is a Mona Lisa in stone. 

There is nothing finer in the history of sculpture than the diorite statue 
of Khafre in the Cairo Museum; as ancient to Praxiteles as Praxiteles to 
us, it nevertheless comes down across fifty centuries almost unhurt by 
time's rough usages; cut in the most intractable of stones, it passes on to 
us completely the strength and authority, the wilfulness and courage, the 
sensitivity and intelligence of the (artist or the) King. Near it, and even 
older, Pharaoh Zoser sits pouting in limestone; farther on, the guide with 
lighted match reveals the transparency of an alabaster Menkaure. 

Quite as perfect in artistry as these portraits of royalty are the figures 
of the Sheik-cl-Belcd and the Scribe. The Scribe has come down to us 
in many forms, all of uncertain antiquity; the most illustrious is the 
squatting Scribe of the Louvre.* The Sheik is no sheik but only an over- 
seer of labor, armed with the staff of authority, and stepping forward as 
if in supervision or command. His name, apparently, was Kaapiru; but 
the Arab workmen who rescued him from his tomb at Sakkara were struck 
with his resemblance to the Sheik-el-Beled (i.e., Mayor-of-the- Village) 
under whom they lived; and this title which their good humor gave him 
is now inseparable from his fame. He is carved only in mortal wood, 
but time has not seriously reduced his portly figure or his chubby legs; 
his waistline has all the amplitude of the comfortable bourgeois in every 
civilization; his rotund face beams with the content of a man who knows 
his place and glories in it. The bald head and carelessly loosened robe 
display the realism of an art already old enough to rebel against idealiza- 
tion; but here, too, is a fine simplicity, a complete humanity, expressed 
without bitterness, and with the ease and grace of a practised and confident 
hand. "If," says Maspero, "some exhibition of the world's masterpieces 

* Cf. p. 161 above. Other scribes adorn the Cairo Museum, and the State Museum at 


were to be inaugurated, I should choose this work to uphold the honor 
of Egyptian art" 1 "" or would that honor rest more securely on the head 
of Khafre? 

These are the chefs-d'oeuvres of Old Kingdom statuary. But lesser 
masterpieces abound: the seated portraits of Rahotep and his wife Nofrit, 
the powerful figure of Ranofer the priest, the copper statues of King 
Phiops and his son, a falcon-head in gold, the humorous figures of the 
Beer-Brewer and the Dwarf Knemhotep all but one in the Cairo Museum, 
all without exception instinct with character. It is true that the earlier 
pieces are coarse and crude; that by a strange convention, running through- 
out Egyptian art, figures are shown with the body and eyes facing for- 
ward, but the hands and feet in profile;* that not much attention was given 
to the body, which was left in most cases stereotyped and unreal all female 
bodies young, all royal bodies strong; and that individualization, though 
masterly, was generally reserved for the head. But with all the stiffness 
and sameness that priestly conventions and control forced upon statuary, 
paintings and reliefs, these works were fully redeemed by the power and 
depth of the conception, the vigor and precision of the execution, the 
character, line and finish of the product. Never was sculpture more alive: 
the Sheik exudes authority, the woman grinding grain gives every sense 
and muscle to her work, the Scribe is on the very verge of writing. And 
the thousand little puppets placed in the tombs to carry on essential in- 
dustries for the dead were moulded with a like vivacity, so that we can 
almost believe, with the pious Egyptian, that the deceased could not be 
unhappy while these ministrants were there. 

Not for many centuries did Egyptian sculpture equal again the achieve- 
ments of the early dynasties. Because most of the statuary was made for 
the temples or the tombs, the priests determined to a great degree what 
forms the artist should follow; and the natural conservatism of religion 
crept into art, slowly stifling sculpture into a conventional, stylistic de- 
generation. Under the powerful monarchs of the Twelfth Dynasty the 
secular spirit reasserted itself, and art recaptured something of its old vigor 
and more than its old skill. A head of Amencmhet III in black diorite 1 " 
suggests at once the recovery of character and the recovery of art; here 
is the quiet hardness of an able king, carved with the competence of a 
master. A colossal statue of Senusret III is crowned with a head and face 

There are important exceptions to this e.g., the Sheik-el-Beled and the Scribe; obvi- 
ously the convention was not due to incapacity or ignorance. 


equal in conception and execution to any portrait in the history of sculp- 
ture; and the ruined torso of Senusret I, in the Cairo Museum, ranks with 
the torso of Hercules in the Louvre. Animal figures abound in the Egyptian 
sculpture of every age, and are always full of humor and life: here is a 
mouse chewing a nut, an ape devotedly strumming a harp, a porcupine 
with every spine on the qui vive. Then came the Shepherd Kings, and for 
three hundred years Egyptian art almost ceased to be. 

In the age of Hatshepsut, the Thutmoses, the Amenhoteps and the 
Rameses, art underwent a second resurrection along the Nile. Wealth 
poured in from subject Syria, passed into the temples and the courts, and 
trickled through them to nourish every art. Colossi of Thutmose III and 
Rameses II began to challenge the sky; statuary crowded every corner of 
the temples; masterpieces were flung forth with unprecedented abundance 
by a race exhilarated with what they thought was world supremacy. The 
fine granite bust of the great Queen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
at New York; the basalt statue of Thutmose III in the Cairo Museum; 
the lion sphinx of Amenhotep III in the British Museum; the limestone 
seated Ikhnaton in the Louvre; the granite statue of Rameses II in Turin;* 
the perfect crouching figure of the same incredible monarch making an 
offering to the gods; 100 the meditative cow of Der-cl-Bahri, which Maspero 
considered "equal, if not superior, to the best achievements of Greece and 
Rome in this genre";* 00 the two lions of Amenhotep III, which Ruskin 
ranked as the best animal statuary surviving from antiquity; 201 the colossi 
cut into the rocks at Abu Simbel by the sculptors of Rameses II; the amaz- 
ing remains found among the ruins of the artist Thutmose's studio at Tell- 
el-Amarna a plaster model of Ikhnaton's head, full of the mysticism and 
poetry of that tragic king, the lovely limestone bust of Ikhnaton's Queen, 
Nofretete, and the even finer sandstone head of the same fair lady:* 2 these 
scattered examples may illustrate the sculptural accomplishments of this 
abounding Empire age. Amid all these lofty masterpieces humor continues 
to find place; Egyptian sculptors frolic with jolly caricatures of men and 
animals, and even the kings and queens, in Ikhnaton's iconoclastic age, are 
made to smile and play. 

After Rameses II this magnificence passed rapidly away. For many 
centuries after him art contented itself with repeating traditional works 
and forms. Under the Sa'ite kings it sought to rejuvenate itself by return- 

* One is reminded here of the remark of an Egyptian statesman, after visiting the 
galleries of Europe: "Que vous avez vott mon pays! How you have raped my country! "" 


ing to the simplicity and sincerity of the Old Kingdom masters. Sculptors 
attacked bravely the hardest stones basalt, breccia, serpentine, diorite 
and carved them into such realistic portraits as that of Montumihait, 908 and 
the green basalt head of a bald unknown, now looking out blackly upon 
the walls of the State Museum at Berlin. In bronze they cast the lovely 
figure of the lady Tekoschet.** Again they delighted in catching the 
actual features and movements of men and beasts; they moulded laughable 
figures of quaint animals, slaves and gods; and they formed in bronze a 
cat and a goat's head which are among the trophies of Berlin. 206 Then the 
Persians came down like a wolf on the fold, conquered Egypt, desecrated 
its temples, broke its spirit, and put an end to its art. 

These architecture and sculpture* are the major Egyptian arts; but 
if abundance counted, bas-relief would have to be added to them. No 
other people so tirelessly carved its history or legends upon its walls. At 
first we are shocked by the dull similarity of these glyptic narratives, the 
crowded confusion, the absence of proportion and perspective or the 
ungainly attempt to achieve this by representing the far above the near; 
we are surprised to see how tall the Pharaoh is, and how small are his 
enemies; and, as in the sculpture, we find it hard to adjust our pictorial 
habits to eyes and breasts that face us boldly, while noses, chins and feet 
turn coldly away. But then we find ourselves caught by the perfect line 
and grace of the falcon and serpent carved on King Wencphcs' tomb,""* 
by the limestone reliefs of King Zoser on the Step-Pyramid at Sakkara, 
by the wood 7 relief of Prince Hesire from his grave in the same locality, 807 
and by the wounded Libyan on a Fifth Dynasty tomb at Abusir 208 a patient 
study of muscles taut in pain. At last we bear with equanimity the long 
reliefs that tell how Thutmose III and Rameses II carried all before them; 
we recognize the perfection of flowing line in the reliefs carved for Seti 
I at Abydos and Karnak; and we follow with interest the picturesque en- 
gravings wherein the sculptors of Hatshepsut tell on the walls of Der-el- 
Bahri the story of the expedition sent by her to the mysterious land of 
Punt (Somaliland?). We see the long ships with full-spread sail and serried 
oars heading south amid waters alive with octopi, Crustacea and other 
toilers of the sea; we watch the fleet arriving on the shores of Punt, wel- 
comed by a startled but fascinated people and king; we see the sailors 

* Though the word sculpture includes all carved forms, we shall use it as 
especially sculpture in the round; and shall segregate under the term bas-relie 
carving of forms upon a background. jv 


carrying on board a thousand loads of native delicacies; we read the jest 
of the Punt workman "Be careful of your feet, you over there; look 
out!" Then we accompany the heavy-laden vessels as they return north- 
ward filled (the inscription tells us) "with the marvels of the land of Punt, 
all the odoriferous trees of the lands of the gods, incense, ebony, ivory, 
gold, woods of divers kinds, cosmetics for the eyes, monkeys, dogs, panther 
skins, . . . never have like things been brought back for any king from 
the beginning of the world." The ships come through the great canal 
between the Red Sea and the Nile; we see the expedition landing at the 
docks of Thebes, depositing its varied cargo at the very feet of the Queen. 
And lastly we are shown, as if after the lapse of time, all these imported 
goods beautifying Egypt: on every side ornaments of gold and ebony, 
boxes of perfumes and unguents, elephants' tusks and animals' hides; while 
the trees brought back from Punt are flourishing so well on the soil of 
Thebes that under their branches oxen enjoy the shade. It is one of the 
supreme reliefs in the history of art.*"* 

Bas-relief is a liaison between sculpture and painting. In Egypt, except 
during the reign of the Ptolemies and under the influence of Greece, paint- 
ing never rose to the status of an independent art; it remained an accessory 
to architecture, sculpture and relief the painter filled in the outlines carved 
by the cutting tool. But though subordinate, it was ubiquitous; most statues 
were painted, all surfaces were colored. It is an an perilously subject to 
time, and lacking the persistence of statuary and building. Very little re- 
mains to us of Old Kingdom painting beyond a remarkable picture of six 
geese from a tomb at Medum; 910 but from this alone we are justified in be- 
lieving that already in the early dynasties this art, too, had come near to 
perfection. In the Middle Kingdom we find distemper paintingt of a 
delightful decorative effect in the tombs of Ameni and Khnumhotep at 
Beni-Hasan, and such excellent examples of the art as the "Gazelles and 
the Peasants," 311 and the "Cat Watching the Prey";* 3 here again the artist 
has caught the main point that his creations must move and live. Under 
the Empire the tombs became a riot of painting. The Egyptian artist had 
now developed every color in the rainbow, and was anxious to display his 
skill. On the walls and ceilings of homes, temples, palaces and graves he 

* A cast of this relief may be seen in the Twelfth Egyptian Room of the Metropoli- 
tan Museum of Art at New York. 

t Painting in which the pigments are mixed or tempered with egg-yolk, size (diluted 
glue), or egg-white. 


tried to portray refreshingly the life of the sunny fields birds in flight 
through the air, fishes swimming in the sea, beasts of the jungle in their 
native haunts. Floors were painted to look like transparent pools, and ceil- 
ings sought to rival the jewelry of the sky. Around these pictures were 
borders of geometric or floral design, ranging from a quiet simplicity to 
the most fascinating complexity. 813 The "Dancing Girl," 214 so full of orig 
inality and esprit, the "Bird Hunt in a Boat," 215 the slim, naked beauty in 
ochre, mingling with other musicians in the Tomb of Nakht at Thebes 21 " 
these are stray samples of the painted population of the graves. Here, as 
in the bas-reliefs, the line is good and the composition poor; the participants 
in an action, whom we should portray as intermingled, are represented 
separately in succession; 217 superposition is again preferred to perspective; 
the stiff formalism and conventions of Egyptian sculpture are the order 
of the day, and do not reveal that enlivening humor and realism which 
distinguish the later statuary. But through these pictures runs a freshness 
of conception, a flow of line and execution, a fidelity to the life and move- 
ment of natural things, and a joyous exuberance of color and ornament, 
which make them a delight to the eye and the spirit. With all its short- 
comings Egyptian painting would never be surpassed by any Oriental 
civilization until the middle dynasties of China. 

The minor arts were the major art of Egypt. The same skill and energy 
that had built Karnak and the Pyramids, and had crowded the temples 
with a populace of stone, devoted itself also to the internal beautification 
of the home, the adornment of the body, and the development of all the 
graces of life. Weavers made rugs, tapestries and cushions rich in color 
and incredibly fine in texture; the designs which they created passed down 
into Syria, and are used there to this day. 21 * The relics of Tutenkhamon's 
tomb have revealed the astonishing luxury of Egyptian furniture, the ex- 
quisite finish of every piece and part, chairs covered gaudily with silver 
and gold, beds of sumptuous workmanship and design, jewel-boxes and 
perfume-baskets of minute artistry, and vases that only China would excel. 
Tables bore costly vessels of silver, gold and bronze, crystal goblets, and 
sparkling bowls of diorite so finely ground that the light shone through 
their stone walls. The alabaster vessels of Tutenkhamon, and the perfect 
lotus cups and drinking bowls unearthed amid the ruins of Amenhotep 
Ill's villa at Thebes, indicate to what a high level the ceramic art was 
raised. Finally the jewelers of the Middle Kingdom and the Empire brought 
forth a profusion of precious ornaments seldom surpassed in design and 


workmanship. Necklaces, crowns, rings, bracelets, mirrors, pectorals, 
chains, medallions; gold and silver, carnelian and felspar, lapis lazuli and 
amethyst everything is here. The rich Egyptians took the same pleasure 
as the Japanese in the beauty of the little things that surrounded them; 
every square of ivory on their jewel-boxes had to be carved in relief and 
refined in precise detail. They dressed simply, but they lived completely. 
And when their day's work was done they refreshed themselves with 
music softly played on lutes, harps, sistrums, flutes and lyres.* Temples 
and palaces had orchestras and choirs, and on the Pharaoh's staff was a 
"superintendent of singing" who organized players and musicians for the 
entertainment of the king. There is no trace of a musical notation in 
Egypt, but this may be merely a lacuna in the remains. Snefrunofr and 
Re'mery-Ptah were the Carusos and De Reszkes of their day, and across 
the centuries we hear their boast that they "fulfil every wish of the king 
by their beautiful singing." 219 

It is exceptional that their names survive, for in most cases the artists 
whose labors preserved the features or memory of princes, priests and 
kings had no means of transmitting their own names to posterity. We hear 
of Imhotep, the almost mythical architect of Zoser's reign; of Ineni, who 
designed great buildings like Der-el-Bahri for Thutmose I; of Puymre 
and Hapuseneb and Senmut, who carried on the architectural enterprises 
of Queen Hatshepsut,t of the artist Thutmose, in whose studio so many 
masterpieces have been found; and of Bek, the proud sculptor who tells 
us, in Gautier's strain, that he has saved Ikhnaton from oblivion.* 81 Amen- 
hotep III had as his chief architect another Amenhotep, son of Hapu; the 
Pharaoh placed almost limitless wealth at the disposal of his talents, and 
this favored artist became so famous that later Egypt worshiped him as 
a god. For the most part, however, the artist worked in obscurity and 
poverty, and was ranked no higher than other artisans or handicraftsmen 
by the priests and potentates who engaged him. 

Egyptian religion cooperated with Egyptian wealth to inspire and foster 
art, and cooperated with Egypt's loss of empire and affluence to ruin it. 
Religion offered motives, ideas and the inspiration; but it imposed con- 

* The lute was made by stretching a few strings along a narrow sounding-board; the 
sistrum was a group of small discs shaken on wires. 

t Senmut was so honored by his sovereigns that he said of himself: "I was the greatest 
of the great in the whole land." 830 This is an opinion very commonly held, but not tl- 
ways so clearly expressed. 


ventions and restraints which bound art so completely to the church that 
when sincere religion died among the artists, the arts that had lived on it 
died too. This is the tragedy of almost every civilization that its soul is in 
its faith, and seldom survives philosophy. 

10. Philosophy 

The "Instructions of Ptah-hotep"-The "Admonitions of Ipuiver" 
The "Dialogue of a Misanthrope" -The Egyptian Ecclesiastes 

Historians of philosophy have been wont to begin their story with the 
Greeks. The Hindus, who believe that they invented philosophy, and the 
Chinese, who believe that they perfected it, smile at our provincialism. 
It may be that we are all mistaken; for among the most ancient fragments 
left to us by the Egyptians are writings that belong, however loosely and 
untechnically, under the rubric of moral philosophy. The wisdom of the 
Egyptians was a proverb with the Greeks, who felt themselves children 
beside this ancient race.*" 

The oldest work of philosophy known to us is the "Instructions of Ptah- 
hotep," which apparently goes back to 2880 B.C. 2300 years before Con- 
fucius, Socrates and Buddha.** Ptah-hotep was Governor of Memphis, and 
Prime Minister to the King, under the Fifth Dynasty. Retiring from office, 
he decided to leave to his son a manual of everlasting wisdom. It was 
transcribed as an antique classic by some scholars prior to the Eighteenth 
Dynasty. The Vizier begins: 

O Prince my Lord, the end of life is at hand; old age descendeth 
upon me; feebleness cometh and childishness is renewed; he that is 
old lieth down in misery every day. The eyes are small, the ears are 
deaf. Energy is diminished, the heart hath no rest. . . . Command thy 
servant, therefore, to make over my princely authority to my son. 
Let me speak unto him the words of them that hearken to the coun- 
sel of the men of old time, those that once heard the gods. I pray 
thee, let this thing be done. 

His Gracious Majesty grants the permission, advising him, however, to 
"discourse without causing weariness" advice not yet superfluous for 
philosophers. Whereupon Ptah-hotep instructs his son: 

Be not proud because thou art learned; but discourse with the ig- 
" norant man as with the sage. For no limit can be set to skill, neither 


is there any craftsman that possessed! full advantages. Fair speech is 
more rare than the emerald that is found by slave-maidens among the 
pebbles. . . . Live, therefore, in the house of kindliness, and men shall 
come and give gifts of themselves. . . . Beware of making enmity by 
thy words. . . . Overstep not the truth, neither repeat that which 
any man, be he prince or peasant, saith in opening the heart; it is 
abhorrent to the soul. . . . 

If thou wouldst be a wise man, beget a son for the pleasing of the 
god. If he make straight his course after thine example, if he ar- 
range thine affairs in due order, do all unto him that is good. 
... If he be heedless and trespass thy rules of conduct, and is vio- 
lent; if every speech that cometh from his mouth is a vile word; 
then beat thou him, that his talk may be fitting. . . . Precious to a 
man is the virtue of his son, and good character is a thing remem- 
bered. . . . 

Wheresover thou goest, beware of consorting with women. . . . 
If thou wouldst be wise, provide for thine house, and love thy wife 
that is in thine arms. . . . Silence is more profitable to thee than 
abundance of speech. Consider how thou mayest be opposed by an 
expert that speaketh in council. It is a foolish thing to speak on 
every kind of work. . . . 

If thou be powerful make thyself to be honored for knowledge 
and for gentleness. . . . Beware of interruption, and of answering 
words with heat; put it from thee; control thyself. 

And Ptah-hotep concludes with Horatian pride: 

Nor shall any word that hath here been set down cease out of this 
land forever, but shall be made a pattern whereby princes shall speak 
well. My words shall instruct a man how he shall speak; . . . yea, he 
shall become as one skilful in obeying, excellent in speaking. Good 
fortune shall befall him; ... he shall be gracious until the end of his 
life; he shall be contented always."* 

This note of good cheer does not persist in Egyptian thought; age comes 
upon it quickly, and sours it. Another sage, Ipuwer, bemoans the disorder, 
violence, famine and decay that attended the passing of the Old Kingdom; 
he tells of sceptics who "would make offerings if" they "knew where the 
god is"; he comments upon increasing suicide, and adds, like another 
Schopenhauer: "Would that there might be an end of men, that there 


might be no conception, no birth. If the land would but cease from noise, 
and strife be no more" it is clear that Ipuwer was tired and old. In the 
end he dreams of a philosopher-king who will redeem men from chaos 
and injustice: 

He brings cooling to the flame (of the social conflagration?). It is 
said he is the shepherd of all men. There is no evil in his heart. 
When his herds are few he passes the day to gather them together, 
their hearts being fevered. Would that he had discerned their char- 
acter in the first generation. Then would he have smitten evil. He 
would have stretched forth his arm against it. He would have 
smitten the seed thereof and their inheritance. . . . Where is he to- 
day? Doth he sleep perchance? Behold, his might is not seen. 1 * 

This already is the voice of the prophets; the lines are cast into strophic 
form, like the prophetic writings of the Jews; and Breasted properly 
acclaims these "Admonitions" as "the earliest emergence of a social idealism 
which among the Hebrews we call 'Messianism.' """ Another scroll from 
the Middle Kingdom denounces the corruption of the age in words that 
almost every generation hears: 

To whom do I speak today? 

Brothers are evil, 

Friends of today are not of love. 

To whom do I speak today? 

Hearts are thievish, 

Every man seizes his neighbor's goods. 
To whom do I speak today? 
The gentle man perishes, 
The bold-faced goes everywhere. . . . 

To whom do I speak today? 

When a man should arouse wrath by his evil conduct 

He stirs all men to mirth, although his iniquity is wicked. . . . 

And then this Egyptian Swinburne pours out a lovely eulogy of death: 

Death is before me today 

Like the recovery of a sick man, 

Like going forth into a garden after sickness. 

Death is before me today 

Like the odor of myrrh, 

Like sitting under die sail on a windy day. 


Death is before me today 

Like the odor of lotus-flowers, 

Like sitting on the shore of drunkenness. 

Death is before me today 

Like the course of a freshet, 

Like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house. . . . 
Death is before me today 
As a man longs to see his home 
When he had spent years of captivity.** 1 

Saddest of all is a poem engraved upon a slab now in the Leyden 
Museum, and dating back to 2200 B.C. Carpe diem, it sings snatch the day! 

I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hardedef, 
Words greatly celebrated as their utterances. 
Behold the places thereof! 
Their walls are dismantled, 
Their places are no more, 
As if they had never been. 

None cometh from thence 

That he may tell us how they fare; . . . 

That he may content our hearts 

Until we too depart 

To the place whither they have gone. 

Encourage thy heart to forget it, 

Making it pleasant for thee to follow thy desire 

While thou livest. 

Put myrrh upon thy head, 

And garments upon thee of fine linen, 

Imbued with marvelous luxuries, 

The genuine things of the gods. 

Increase yet more thy delights, 

And let not thy heart languish. 

Follow thy desire and thy good, 

Fashion thy affairs on earth 

After the mandates of thine own heart, 

Till that day of lamentation come to thee 

When the silent-hearted (dead) hears not their lamentation, 

Nor he that is in the tomb attends the mourning. 


Celebrate the glad day; 

Be not weary therein. 

Lo, no man taketh his goods with him; 

Yea, none returneth again that is gone thither."" 

This pessimism and scepticism were the result, it may be, of the broken 
spirit of a nation humiliated and subjected by the Hyksos invaders; they 
bear the same relation to Egypt that Stoicism and Epicureanism bear to 
a defeated and enslaved Greece.* In part such literature represents one 
of those interludes, like our own moral interregnum, in which thought 
has for a time overcome belief, and men no longer know how or why they 
should live. Such periods do not endure; hope soon wins the victory over 
thought; the intellect is put down to its customary menial place, and 
religion is born again, giving to men the imaginative stimulus apparently 
indispensable to life and work. We need not suppose that such poems 
expressed the views of any large number of Egyptians; behind and around 
the small but vital minority that pondered the problems of life and death 
in secular and naturalistic terms were millions of simple men and women 
who remained faithful to the gods, and never doubted that right would 
triumph, that every earthly pain and grief would be atoned for bountifully 
in a haven of happiness and peace. 

11. Religion 

Sky gods The sun god Plant gods Animal gods Sex gods- 
Human gods Osiris Isis and Horus Minor deities The 
priests-Immortality The "Book of the Dead"-The 
"Negative Confession" Magic Corruption 

For beneath and above everything in Egypt was religion. We find it 
there in every stage and form from totemism to theology; we see its in- 
fluence in literature, in government, in art, in everything except morality. 
And it is not only varied, it is tropically abundant; only in Rome and 
India shall we find so plentiful a pantheon. We cannot understand the 
Egyptian or man until we study his gods. 

In the beginning, said the Egyptian, was the sky; and to the end this and 
the Nile remained his chief divinities. All these marvelous heavenly bodies 
were not mere bodies, they were the external forms of mighty spirits, 

* "Civil war," says Ipuwer, "pays no revenues." 1 " 


gods whose willsnot always concordant ordained their complex and 
varied movements.** The sky itself was a vault, across whose vastness a 
great cow stood, who was the goddess Hathor; the earth lay beneath her 
feet, and her belly was clad in the beauty of ten thousand stars. Or (for 
the gods and myths differed from nome to nome) the sky was the god 
Sibu, lying tenderly upon the earth, which was the goddess Nuit; from 
their gigantic copulation all things had been born." Constellations and 
stars might be gods: for example, Sahu and Sopdit (Orion and Sirius) were 
tremendous deities; Sahu ate gods three times a day regularly. Occasionally 
some such monster ate the moon, but only for a moment; soon the prayers 
of men and the anger of the other gods forced the greedy sow to vomit 
it up again.* 1 In this manner the Egyptian populace explained an eclipse 
of the moon. 

The moon was a god, perhaps the oldest of all that were worshiped 
in Egypt; but in the official theology the greatest of the gods was the sun. 
Sometimes it was worshiped as the supreme deity Ra or Re, the bright 
father who fertilized Mother Earth with rays of penetrating heat and 
light; sometimes it was a divine calf, born anew at every dawn, sailing the 
sky slowly in a celestial boat, and descending into the west, at evening, 
like an old man tottering to his grave. Or the sun was the god Horus, 
taking the graceful form of a falcon, flying majestically across the heavens 
day after day as if in supervision of his realm, and becoming one of the 
recurrent symbols of Egyptian religion and royalty. Always Ra, or the 
sun, was the Creator: at his first rising, seeing the earth desert and bare, 
he had flooded it with his energizing rays, and all living things vegetable, 
animal and human had sprung pell-mell from his eyes, and been scattered 
over the world. The earliest men and women, being direct children of Ra, 
had been perfect and happy; by degrees their descendants had taken to 
evil ways, and had forfeited this perfection and happiness; whereupon 
Ra, dissatisfied with his creatures, had destroyed a large part of the human 
race. Learned Egyptians questioned this popular belief, and asserted on 
the contrary (like certain Sumerian scholars), that the first men had been 
like brutes, without articulate speech or any of the arts of life.* 8 All in 
all it was an intelligent mythology, expressing piously man's gratitude to 
earth and sun. 

So exuberant was this piety that the Egyptians worshiped not merely 
the source, but almost every form, of life. Many plants were sacred to 
them: the palm-tree that shaded them amid the desert, the spring that 


gave them drink in the oasis, the grove where they could meet and rest, 
the sycamore flourishing miraculously in the sand; these were, with ex- 
cellent reason, holy things, and to the end of his civilization the simple 
Egyptian brought them offerings of cucumbers, grapes and figs.** Even 
the lowly vegetable found its devotees; and Taine amused himself by 
showing how the onion that so displeased Bossuet had been a divinity on 
the banks of the Nile. 884 

More popular were the animal gods; they were so numerous that they 
filled the Egyptian pantheon like a chattering menagerie. In one nome or 
another, in one period or another, Egyptians worshiped the bull, the croco- 
dile, the hawk, the cow, the goose, the goat, the ram, the cat, the dog, 
the chicken, the swallow, the jackal, the serpent, and allowed some of 
these creatures to roam in the temples with the same freedom that is 
accorded to the sacred cow in India today.* 5 When the gods became 
human they still retained animal doubles and symbols: Amon was repre- 
sented as a goose or a ram, Ra as a grasshopper or a bull, Osiris as a bull 
or a ram, Sebek as a crocodile, Horus as a hawk or falcon, Hathor as a 
cow, and Thoth, the god of wisdom, as a baboon. 888 Sometimes women 
were offered to certain of these animals as sexual mates; the bull in par- 
ticular, as the incarnation of Osiris, received this honor; and at Mendes, 
says Plutarch, the most beautiful women were offered in coitus to the 
divine goat. 837 From beginning to end this totemism remained as an essential 
and native element in Egyptian religion; human gods came to Egypt 
much later, and probably as gifts from western Asia. 888 

The goat and the bull were especially sacred to the Egyptians as repre- 
senting sexual creative power; they were not merely symbols of Osiris, 
but incarnations of him. 889 Often Osiris was depicted with large and prom- 
inent organs, as a mark of his supreme power; and models of him in this 
form, or with a triple phallus, were borne in religious processions by the 
Egyptians; on certain occasions the women carried such phallic images, 
and operated them mechanically with strings. 840 * Signs of sex worship 
appear not only in the many cases in which figures are depicted, on temple 
reliefs, with erect organs, but in the frequent appearance, in Egyptian 
symbolism, of the crux ansataz cross with a handle, as a sign of sexual 
union and vigorous life. 841 

At last the gods became human or rather, men became gods. Like the 

*The curious reader will find again a similar custom in India; cf. Dubois, Hindu 
Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, Oxford, 1928, p. 595. 


deities of Greece, the personal gods of Egypt were merely superior men 
and women, made in heroic mould, but composed of bone and muscle, 
flesh and blood; they hungered and ate, thirsted and drank, loved and 
mated, hated and killed, grew old and died.*' There was Osiris, for ex- 
ample, god of the beneficent Nile, whose death and resurrection were 
celebrated yearly as symbolizing the fall and rise of the river, and perhaps 
the decay and growth of the soil. Every Egyptian of the later dynasties 
could tell the story of how Set (or Sit), the wicked god of desiccation, 
who shriveled up harvests with his burning breath, was angered at Osiris 
(the Nile) for extending (with his overflow) the fertility of the earth, 
slew him, and reigned in dry majesty over Osiris' kingdom (i.e., the river 
once failed to rise), until Horus, brave son of Isis, overcame Set and 
banished him; whereafter Osiris, brought back to life by the warmth 
of Isis' love, ruled benevolently over Egypt, suppressed cannibalism, estab- 
lished civilization, and then ascended to heaven to reign there endlessly 
as a god."" It was a profound myth; for history, like Oriental religion, is 
dualistic a record of the conflict between creation and destruction, fer- 
tility and desiccation, rejuvenation and exhaustion, good and evil, life and 

Profound, too, was the myth of Isis, the Great Mother. She was not 
only the loyal sister and wife of Osiris; in a sense she was greater than he, 
for like woman in general she had conquered death through love. Nor 
was she merely the black soil of the Delta, fertilized by the touch of 
Osiris-Nile, and making all Egypt rich with her fecundity. She was, above 
all, the symbol of that mysterious creative power which had produced the 
earth and every living thing, and of that maternal tenderness whereby, at 
whatever cost to the mother, the young new life is nurtured to maturity. 
She represented in Egyptas Kali, Ishtar and Cybele represented in 
Asia, Demeter in Greece, and Ceres in Rome the original priority and 
independence of the female principle in creation and in inheritance, and 
the originative leadership of woman in tilling the earth; for it was Isis 
(said the myth) who had discovered wheat and barley growing wild in 
Egypt, and had revealed them to Osiris (man). 844 The Egyptians wor- 
shiped her with especial fondness and piety, and raised up jeweled images 
to her as the Mother of God; her tonsured priests praised her in sonorous 
matins and vespers; and in midwinter of each year, coincident with the 
annual rebirth of the sun towards the end of our December, the temples 


of her divine child, Horus (god of the sun), showed her, in holy effigy, 
nursing in a stable the babe that she had miraculously conceived. These 
poetic-philosophic legends and symbols profoundly affected Christian 
ritual and theology. Early Christians sometimes worshiped before the 
statues of Isis suckling the infant Horus, seeing in them another form of 
the ancient and noble myth by which woman (i.e., the female principle), 
creating all things, becomes at last the Mother of God. 14 " 

These Ra (or, as he was called in the South, Amon), Osiris, Isis and 
Horus were the greater gods of Egypt. In later days Ra, Amon and 
another god, Ptah, were combined as three embodiments or aspects of one 
supreme and triune deity , Mfl There were countless lesser divinities: Anubis 
the jackal, Shu, Tefnut, Ncphthys, Ket, Nut; . . . but we must not make 
these pages a museum of dead gods. Even Pharaoh was a god, always the 
son of Amon-Ra, ruling not merely by divine right but by divine birth, 
as a deity transiently tolerating the earth as his home. On his head was 
the falcon, symbol of Horus and totem of the tribe; from his forehead rose 
the ur^eus or serpent, symbol of wisdom and life, and communicating magic 
virtues to the crown. 2 " 7 The king was chief -priest of the faith, and led the 
great processions and ceremonies that celebrated the festivals of the gods. 
It was through this assumption of divine lineage and powers that he was 
able to rule so long with so little force. 

Hence the priests of Egypt were the necessary props of the throne, 
and the secret police of the social order. Given a faith of such complexity, 
a class had to arise adept in magic and ritual, whose skill would make it 
indispensable in approaching the gods. In effect, though not in law, the 
office of priest passed down from father to son, and a class grew up 
which, through the piety of the people and the politic generosity of the 
kings, became in time richer and stronger than the feudal aristocracy or 
the royal family itself. The sacrifices offered to the gods supplied the 
priests with food and drink; the temple buildings gave them spacious 
homes; the revenues of temple lands and services furnished them with 
ample incomes; and their exemption from forced labor, military service, 
and ordinary taxation, left them in an enviable position of prestige and 
power. They deserved not a little of this power, for they accumulated 
and preserved the learning of Egypt, educated the youth, and disciplined 
themselves with rigor and zeal. Herodotus describes them almost with 


They are of all men the most excessively attentive to the worship 
of the gods, and observe the following ceremonies. . . . They wear 
linen garments, constantly fresh-washed. . . . They are circumcised 
for the sake of cleanliness, thinking it better to be clean than hand- 
some. They shave their whole body every third day, that neither 
lice nor any other impurity may be found upon them. . . . They 
wash themselves in cold water twice every day and twice every 
night. 148 

What distinguished this religion above everything else was its emphasis 
on immortality. If Osiris, the Nile, and all vegetation, might rise again, 
so might man. The amazing preservation of the dead body in the dry soil 
of Egypt lent some encouragement to this belief, which was to dominate 
Egyptian faith for thousands of years, and to pass from it, by its own 
resurrection, into Christianity ."" The body, Egypt believed, was inhabited 
by a small replica of itself called the ka, and also by a soul that dwelr in 
the body like a bird flitting among trees. All of these-body, ka and soul- 
survived the appearance of death; they could escape mortality for a time 
in proportion as the flesh was preserved from decay; but if they came to 
Osiris clean of all sin they would be permitted to live forever in the 
"Happy Field of Food" those heavenly gardens where there would 
always be abundance and security: judge the harassed penury that spoke 
in this consoling dream. These Elysian Fields, however, could be reached 
only through the services of a ferryman, an Egyptian prototype of Charon; 
and this old gentleman would receive into his boat only such men and 
women as had done no evil in their lives. Or Osiris would question the 
dead, weighing each candidate's heart in the scale against a feather to test 
his truthfulness. Those who failed in this final examination would be 
condemned to lie forever in their tombs, hungering and thirsting, fed upon 
by hideous crocodiles, and never coming forth to see the sun. 

According to the priests there were clever ways of passing these tests; 
and they offered to reveal these ways for a consideration. One was to fit 
up the tomb with food, drink and servants to nourish and help the dead. 
Another was to fill the tomb with talismans pleasing to the gods: fish, 
vultures, snakes, above all, the scarab-a beetle which, because it repro- 
duced itself apparently with fertilization, typified the resurrected soul; 
if these were properly blessed by a priest they would frighten away every 
assailant, and annihilate every evil. A still better way was to buy the 


Book of the Dead* scrolls for which the priests had written prayers, for- 
mulas and charms calculated to appease, even to deceive, Osiris. When, 
after a hundred vicissitudes and perils, the dead soul at last reached Osiris, 
it was to address the great Judge in some such manner as this: 

O Thou who speedest Time's advancing wing, 
Thou dweller in all mysteries of life, 
Thou guardian of every word I speak 
Behold, Thou art ashamed of me, thy son; 
Thy heart is full of sorrow and of shame, 
For that my sins were grievous in the world, 
And proud my wickedness and my transgression. 
Oh, be at peace with me, oh, be at peace, 
And break the barriers that loom between us! 
Let all my sins be washed away and fall 
Forgotten to the right and left of thee! 
Yea, do away with all my wickedness, 
And put away the shame that fills thy heart, 
That Thou and I henceforth may be at peace." 1 

Or the soul was to declare its innocence of all major sins, in a "Negative 
Confession" that represents for us one of the earliest and noblest expressions 
of the moral sense in man: 

Hail to Thee, Great God, Lord of Truth and Justice! I have 
come before Thee, my Master; I have been brought to see thy 
beauties. ... I bring unto you Truth. ... I have not committed in- 
iquity against men. I have not oppressed the poor. ... I have not 
laid labor upon any free man beyond that which he wrought for 
himself. ... I have not defaulted, I have not committed that which 
is an abomination to the gods. I have not caused the slave to be ill- 
treated of his master. I have not starved any man, I have not made 
any to weep, I have not assassinated any man, ... I have not com- 
mitted treason against any. I have not in aught diminished the sup- 

* A modern title given by Lcpsius to some two thousand papyrus rolls found in vari- 
ous tombs, and distinguished by containing formulas to guide the dead. The Egyptian 
title is Coming Forth (from death) by Day. They date from the Pyramids, but some 
are even older. The Egyptians believed that these texts had been composed by the god 
of wisdom, Thoth; chapter Ixiv announced that the book had been found at Heliopolis, 
and was "in the very handwriting of the god." 880 Josiah made a similar discovery among 
the Jews; cf. Chap, xii, v below. 


plies of the temple; I have not spoiled the show-bread of the gods. 
... I have done no carnal act within the sacred enclosure of the 
temple. I have not blasphemed. ... I have not falsified the balance. 
I have not taken away milk from the mouths of sucklings. I have . . . 
not taken with nets the birds of the gods ... I am pure. I am pure. 
I am pure.*" 1 

For the most part, however, Egyptian religion had little to say about 
morality; the priests were busier selling charms, mumbling incantations, 
and performing magic rites than inculcating ethical precepts. Even the 
Book of the Dead teaches the faithful that charms blessed by the clergy 
will overcome all the obstacles that the deceased soul may encounter on 
its way to salvation; and the emphasis is rather on reciting the prayers 
than on living the good life. Says one roll: "If this can be known by 
the deceased he shall come forth by day" i.e., rise to eternal life. Amulets 
and incantations were designed and sold to cover a multitude of sins and 
secure the entrance of the Devil himself into Paradise. At every step the 
pious Egyptian had to mutter strange formulas to avert evil and attract 
the good. Hear, for example, an anxious mother trying to drive out 
"demons" from her child: 

Run out, thou who comest in darkness, who enterest in stealth. 
. . . Comest thou to kiss this child? I will not let thce kiss him. 
. . . Comest thou to take him away? 1 will not let thee take him 
away from me. 1 have made his protection against thee out of 
Efet-hcrb, which makes pain; out of onions, which harm thee; out 
of honey, which is sweet to the living and bitter to the dead; out 
of the evil parts of the Ebdu fish; out of the backbone of the 
perch.* 8 

The gods themselves used magic and charms against one another. The 
literature of Egypt is full of magicians of wizards who dry up lakes with 
a word, or cause severed limbs to jump back into place, or raise the dead. 354 
The king had magicians to help or guide him; and he himself was believed 
to have a magical power to make the rain fall, or the river rise." 56 Life was 
full of talismans, spells, divinations; every door had to have a god to 
frighten away evil spirits or fortuitous strokes of bad luck. Children born 
on the twenty-third of the month of Thoth would surely die soon; those 
born on the twentieth of Choiakh would go blind. 300 "Each day and 


month," says Herodotus, "is assigned to some particular god; and accord- 
ing to the day on which each person is born, they determine what will 
befall him, how he will die, and what kind of person he will be." 807 In 
the end the connection between morality and religion tended to be for- 
gotten; the road to eternal bliss led not through a good life, but through 
magic, ritual, and generosity to the priests. Let a great Egyptologist ex- 
press the matter: 

The dangers of the hereafter were now greatly multiplied, and 
for every critical situation the priest was able to furnish the dead 
with an effective charm which would infallibly cure him. Besides 
many charms which enabled the dead to reach the world of the 
hereafter, there were those which prevented him from losing his 
mouth, his head, his heart; others which enabled him to remember 
his name, to breathe, eat, drink, avoid eating his own foulness, to 
prevent his drinking-water from turning into flame, to turn dark- 
ness into light, to ward off all serpents and other hostile monsters, 
and many others. . . . Thus the earliest moral development which 
we can trace in the ancient East was suddenly arrested, or at least 
checked, by the detestable devices of a corrupt priesthood eager 
for gain. 858 

Such was the state of religion in Egypt when Ikhnaton, poet and heretic, 
came to the throne, and inaugurated the religious revolution that destroyed 
the Empire of Egypt. 


The character of Ikhnaton The new religion A hymn to the 
sun Monotheis?n The new dogma The new art Re- 
action N of retete Break-up of the Empire Death of 

In the year 1380 B.C. Amenhotep III, who had succeeded Thutmose 
III, died after a life of wordly luxury and display, and was followed by 
his son Amenhotep IV, destined to be known as Ikhnaton. A profoundly 
revealing portrait-bust of him, discovered at Tell-el-Amarna, shows a 
profile of incredible delicacy, a face feminine in softness and poetic in 
its sensitivity. Large eyelids like a dreamer's, a long, misshapen skull, a 
frame slender and weak: here was a Shelley called to be a king. 


He had hardly come to power when he began to revolt against the 
religion of Amon, and the practices of Amon's priests. In the great temple 
at Karnak there was now a large harem, supposedly the concubines of 
Amon, but in reality serving to amuse the clergy.* 811 The young emperor, 
whose private life was a model of fidelity, did not approve of this sacred 
harlotry; the blood of the ram slaughtered in sacrifice to Amon stank 
in his nostrils; and the traffic of the priests in magic and charms, and their 
use of the oracle of Amon to support religious obscurantism and political 
corruption** disgusted him to the point of violent protest. "More evil are 
the words of the priests," he said, "than those which I heard until the year 
IV" (of his reign) ; "more evil are they than those which King Amenhotep 
III heard." 980 His youthful spirit rebelled against the sordidness into which 
the religion of his people had fallen; he abominated the indecent wealth 
and lavish ritual of the temples, and the growing hold of a mercenary 
hierarchy on the nation's life. With a poet's audacity he threw compromise 
to the winds, and announced bravely that all these gods and ceremonies 
were a vulgar idolatry, that there was but one god Aton. 

Like Akbar in India thirty centuries later, Ikhnaton saw divinity above 
all in the sun, in the source of all earthly life and light. We cannot tell 
whether he had adopted his theory from Syria, and whether Aton was 
merely a form of Adonis. Of whatever origin, the new god filled the 
king's soul with delight; he changed his own name from Amenhotep, which 
contained the name of Amon, to Ikhnaton, meaning "Aton is satisfied"; 
and helping himself with old hymns, and certain monotheistic poems pub- 
lished in the preceding reign,* he composed passionate songs to Aton, of 
which this, the longest and the best, is the fairest surviving remnant of 
Egyptian literature: 

Thy dawning is beautiful in the horizon of the sky, 
O living Aton, Beginning of life. 
When thou risest in the eastern horizon, 
Thou fillest every land with thy beauty. 

Thou art beautiful, great, glittering, high above every land, 

Thy rays, they encompass the land, even all that thou hast made. 

* Under Amenhotep III the architects Suti and Hor had inscribed a monotheistic hymn 
to the sun upon a stele now in die British Museum.* 01 It had long been the custom in 
Egypt to address the sun-god, Amon-Ra, as die greatest god, 8 " but only as the god of 


Thou art Re, and thou earnest them all away captive; 
Thou bindest them by thy love. 
Though thou art far away, thy rays are upon earth; 
Though thou art on high, thy footprints are the day. 

When thou settest in the western horizon of the sky, 

The earth is in darkness like the dead; 

They sleep in their chambers, 

Their heads are wrapped up, 

Their nostrils are stopped, 

And none seeth the other, 

All their things are stolen 

Which are under their heads, 

And they know it not. 

Every lion cometh forth from his den, 

All serpents they sting. . . . 

The world is in silence, 

He that made them resteth in his horizon. 

Bright is the earth when thou risest in the horizon. 

When thou shinest as Aton by day 

Thou drivest away the darkness. 

When thou sendest forth thy rays, 

The Two Lands are in daily festivity, 

Awake and standing upon their feet 

When thou hast raised them up. 

Their limbs bathed, they take their clothing, 

Their arms uplifted in adoration to thy dawning. 

In all the world they do their work. 

All cattle rest upon their pasturage, 

The trees and the plants flourish, 

The birds flutter in their marshes, 

Their wings uplifted in adoration to thee. 

All the sheep dance upon their feet, 

All winged things fly, 

They live when thou hast shone upon them. 

The barks sail upstream and downstream. 
Every highway is open because thou dawnest. 
The fish in the river leap up before thee. 
Thy rays are in the midst of the great green sea. 


Creator of the germ in woman, 

Maker of seed in man, 

Giving life to the son in the body of his mother, 

Soothing him that he may not weep, 

Nurse even in the womb, 

Giver of breath to animate every one that he maketh! 

When he cometh forth from the body ... on the day of his birth, 

Thou openest his mouth in speech, 

Thou suppliest his necessities. 

When the fledgling in the egg chirps in the egg, 

Thou givest him breath therein to preserve him alive. 

When thou hast brought him together 

To the point of bursting the egg, 

He cometh forth from the egg, 

To chirp with all his might. 

He goeth about upon his two feet 

When he hath come forth therefrom. 

How manifold are thy works! 

They are hidden from before us, 

O sole god, whose powers no other possesseth. 

Thou didst create the earth according to thy heart 

While thou wast alone: 

Men, all cattle large and small, 

All that are upon the earth, 

That go about upon their feet; 

All that are on high, 

That fly with their wings. 

The foreign countries, Syria and Rush, 

The land of Egypt; 

Thou settest every man into his place, 

Thou suppliest their necessities. . . . 

Thou makest the Nile in the nether world, 
Thou bringest it as thou desirest, 
To preserve alive the people. . . . 

How excellent are thy designs, 

O Lord of eternity! 

There is a Nile in the sky for the strangers 

And for the cattle of every country that go upon their feet. . . 


Thy rays nourish every garden; 

When thou risest they live, 

They grow by thee. 

Thou makest the seasons 

In order to create all thy work: 

Winter to bring them coolness, 

And heat that they may taste thee. 

Thou didst make the distant sky to rise therein, 

In order to behold all that thou hast made, 

Thou alone, shining in the form as living Aton, 

Dawning, glittering, going afar and returning. 

Thou makest millions of forms 

Through thyself alone; 

Cities, towns and tribes, 

Highways and rivers. 

All eyes see thee before them, 

For thou art Aton of the day over the earth. . . . 

Thou art in my heart, 

There is no other that knoweth thee 

Save thy son Ikhnaton. 

Thou hast made him wise 

In thy designs and in thy might. 

The world is in thy hand, 

Even as thou hast made them. 

When thou hast risen they live, 

When thou settest they die; 

For thou art length of life of thyself, 

Men live through thee, 

While their eyes are upon thy beauty 

Until thou settest. 

All labor is put away 

When thou settest in the west. . . . 

Thou didst establish the world, 

And raised them up for thy son. . . . 

Ikhnaton, whose life is long; 

And for the chief royal wife, his beloved, 

Mistress of the Two Lands, 

Nefer-nefru-aton, Nofretete, 

Living and flourishing for ever and ever.* 8 


This is not only one of the great poems of history, it is the first out- 
standing expression of monotheism seven hundred years before Isaiah.* 
Perhaps, as Breasted 985 suggests, this conception of one sole god was a 
reflex of the unification of the Mediterranean world under Egypt by 
Thutmose III. Ikhnaton conceives his god as belonging to all nations 
equally, and even names other countries before his own as in Aton's care; 
this was an astounding advance upon the old tribal deities. Note the 
vitalistic conception: Aton is to be found not in battles and victories but 
in flowers and trees, in all forms of life and growth; Aton is the joy that 
causes the young sheep to "dance upon their legs," and the birds to "flutter 
in their marshes." Nor is the god a person limited to human form; the 
real divinity is the creative and nourishing heat of the sun; the flaming 
glory of the rising or setting orb is but an emblem of that ultimate power. 
Nevertheless, because of its omnipresent, fertilizing beneficence, the sun 
becomes to Ikhnaton also the "Lord of love," the tender nurse that "creates 
the man-child in woman," and "fills the Two Lands of Egypt with love." 
So at last Aton grows by symbolism into a solicitous father, compassionate 
and tender; not, like Yahveh, a Lord of Hosts, but a god of gentleness and 
peace." 88 

It is one of the tragedies of history that Ikhnaton, having achieved his 
elevating vision of universal unity, was not satisfied to let the noble quality 
of his new religion slowly win the hearts of men. He was unable to 
think of his truth in relative terms; the thought came to him that other 
forms of belief and worship were indecent and intolerable. Suddenly he 
gave orders that the names of all gods but Aton should be erased and 
chiseled from every public inscription in Egypt; he mutilated his father's 
name from a hundred monuments to cut from it the word A?non; he 
declared all creeds but his own illegal, and commanded that all the old 
temples should be closed. He abandoned Thebes as unclean, and built 
for himself a beautiful new capital at Akhetaton "City of the Horizon 
of Aton." 

Rapidly Thebes decayed as the offices and emoluments of government 
were taken from it, and Akhetaton became a rich metropolis, busy with 
fresh building and a Renaissance of arts liberated from the priestly bondage 
of tradition. The joyous spirit expressed in the new religion passed over 
into its art. At Tell-el-Amarna, a modern village on the site of Akhetaton, 

* The obvious similarity of this hymn to Psalm CIV leaves little doubt of Egyptian in- 
fluence upon the Hebrew poet. 884 


Sir William Flinders Petrie unearthed a beautiful pavement, adorned with 
birds, fishes and other animals painted with the most delicate grace. 1 " 
Ikhnaton forbade the artists to make images of Aton, on the lofty ground 
that the true god has no form;** for the rest he left art free, merely asking 
his favorite artists, Bek, Auta and Nutmose, to describe things as they saw 
them, and to forget the conventions of the priests. They took him at his 
word, and represented him as a youth of gentle, almost timid, face, and 
strangely dolichocephalic head. Taking their lead from his vitalistic con- 
ception of deity, they painted every form of plant and animal life with 
loving detail, and with a perfection hardly surpassed in any other place 
or time. 280 For a while art, which in every generation knows the pangs of 
hunger and obscurity, flourished in abundance and happiness. 

Had Ikhnaton been a mature mind he would have realized that the 
change which he had proposed from a superstitious polytheism deeply 
rooted in the needs and habits of the people to a naturalistic monotheism 
that subjected imagination to intelligence, was too profound to be effected 
in a little time; he would have made haste slowly, and softened the transi- 
tion with intermediate steps. But he was a poet rather than a philosopher; 
like Shelley announcing the demise of Yahveh to the bishops of Oxford, 
he grasped for the Absolute, and brought the whole structure of Egypt 
down upon his head. 

At one blow he had dispossessed and alienated a wealthy and powerful 
priesthood, and had forbidden the worship of deities made dear by long 
tradition and belief. When he had Amon hacked out from his father's 
name it seemed to his people a blasphemous impiety; nothing could be 
more vital to them than the honoring of the ancestral dead. He had under- 
estimated the strength and pertinacity of the priests, and he had exagger- 
ated the capacity of the people to understand a natural religion. Behind 
the scenes the priests plotted and prepared; and in the seclusion of their 
homes the populace continued to worship their ancient and innumerable 
gods. A hundred crafts that had depended upon the temples muttered in 
secret against the heretic. Even in his palace his ministers and generals 
hated him, and prayed for his death, for was he not allowing the Empire 
to fall to pieces in his hands? 

Meanwhile the young poet lived in simplicity and trust. He had seven 
daughters, but no son; and though by law he might have sought an heir 
by his secondary wives, he would not, but preferred to remain faithful 
to Nofretete. A little ornament has come down to us that shows him 


embracing the Queen; he allowed artists to depict him riding in a chariot 
through the streets, engaged in pleasantries with his wife and children; 
on ceremonial occasions the Queen sat beside him and held his hand, 
while their daughters frolicked at the foot of the throne. He spoke of 
his wife as "Mistress of his Happiness, at hearing whose voice the King 
rejoices"; and for an oath he used the phrase, "As my heart is happy in 
the Queen and her children." 270 It was a tender interlude in Egypt's epic 
of power. 

Into this simple happiness came alarming messages from Syria.* The 
dependencies of Egypt in the Near East were being invaded by Hittites 
and other neighboring tribes; the governors appointed by Egypt pleaded 
for immediate reinforcements. Ikhnaton hesitated; he was not quite sure 
that the right of conquest warranted him in keeping these states in sub- 
jection to Egypt; and he was loath to send Egyptians to die on distant 
fields for so uncertain a cause. When the dependencies saw that they were 
dealing with a saint, they deposed their Egyptian governors, quietly 
stopped all payment of tribute, and became to all effects free. Almost in a 
moment Egypt ceased to be a vast Empire, and shrank back into a little 
state. Soon the Egyptian treasury, which had for a century depended upon 
foreign tribute as its mainstay, was empty; domestic taxation had fallen 
to a minimum, and the working of the gold mines had stopped. Internal 
administration was in chaos. Ikhnaton found himself penniless and friend- 
less in a world that had seemed all his own. Every colony was in revolt, 
and every power in Egypt was arrayed against him, waiting for his fall. 

He was hardly thirty when, in 1362 B.C., he died, broken with the reali- 
zation of his failure as a ruler, and the unworthiness of his race. 

*In 1893 Sir William Flinders Petrie discovered at Tell-el-Amarna over three hundred 
and fifty cuneiform letter-tablets, most of which were appeals for aid addressed to 
Ikhnaton by the East. 



Tutenkhamon The labors of Rameses llThe 'wealth of the 

clergy The poverty of the people The conquest of 

Egypt Summary of Egyptian contributions to civilization 

Two years after his death his son-in-law, Tutenkhamon, a favorite of 
the priests, ascended the throne. He changed the name Tutenkhaton 
which his father-in-law had given him, returned the capital to Thebes, 
made his peace with the powers of the Church, and announced to a rejoicing 
people the restoration of the ancient gods. The words Aton and Ikhnaton 
were effaced from all the monuments, the priests forbade the name of the 
heretic king to pass any man's lips, and the people referred to him as "The 
Great Criminal." The names that Ikhnaton had removed were recarved 
upon the monuments, and the feast-days that he had abolished were 
renewed. Everything was as before. 

For the rest Tutenkhamon reigned without distinction; the world would 
hardly have heard of him had not unprecedented treasures been found 
in his grave. After him a doughty general, Harmhab, marched his armies 
up and down the coast, restoring Egypt's external power and internal 
peace. Seti I wisely reaped the fruits of renewed order and wealth, built 
the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, 272 began to cut a mighty temple into the 
cliffs at Abu Simbel, commemorated his grandeur in magnificent reliefs, 
and had the pleasure of lying for thousands of years in one of the most 
ornate of Egypt's tombs. 

At this point the romantic Rameses II, last of the great Pharaohs, 
mounted the throne. Seldom has history known so picturesque a monarch. 
Handsome and brave, he added to his charms by his boyish consciousness 
of them; and his exploits in war, which he never tired of recording, were 
equaled only by his achievements in love. After brushing aside a brother 
who had inopportune rights to the throne, he sent an expedition to Nubia 
to tap the gold mines there and replenish the treasury of Egypt; and with 
the resultant funds he undertook the reconquest of the Asiatic provinces, 
which had again rebelled. Three years he gave to recovering Palestine; 
then he pushed on, met a great army of the Asiatic allies at Kadesh (1288 
B.C.), and turned defeat into victory by his courage and leadership. It may 
have been as a result of these campaigns that a considerable number of 
Jews were brought into Egypt, as slaves or as immigrants; and Rameses II 


is believed by some to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. 87 " He had 
his victories commemorated, without undue impartiality, on half a hundred 
walls, commissioned a poet to celebrate him in epic verse, and rewarded 
himself with several hundred wives. When he died he left one hundred 
sons and fifty daughters to testify to his quality by their number and their 
proportion. He married several of his daughters, so that they too might 
have splendid children. His offspring were so numerous that they con- 
stituted for four hundred years a special class in Egypt, from which, for 
over a century, her rulers were chosen. 

He deserved these consolations, for he seems to have ruled Egypt well. 
He built so lavishly that half the surviving edifices of Egypt are ascribed 
to his reign. He completed the main hall at Karnak, added to the temple 
of Luxor, raised his own vast shrine, the Ramesseum, west of the river, 
finished the great mountain-sanctuary at Abu Simbel, and scattered 
colossi of himself throughout the land. Commerce flourished under him, 
both across the Isthmus of Suez and on the Mediterranean. He built an- 
other canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, but the shifting sands filled it up 
soon after his death. He yielded up his life in 1225 B.C., aged ninety, after 
one of the most remarkable reigns of history. 

Only one human power in Egypt had excelled his, and that was the 
clergy: here, as everywhere in history, ran the endless struggle between 
church and state. Throughout his reign and those of his immediate suc- 
cessors, the spoils of every war, and the lion's share of taxes from the 
conquered provinces, went to the temples and the priests. These reached 
1 the zenith of their wealth under Rameses HI. They possessed at that time 
| 107,000 slaves one-thirtieth of the population of Egypt; they held 750,000 
acresone-seventh of all the arable land; they owned 500,000 head of 
cattle; they received the revenues from 169 towns in Egypt and Syria; 
and all this property was exempt from taxation.*" The generous or 
timorous Rameses III showered unparalleled gifts upon the priests of 
Amon, including 32,000 kilograms of gold and a million kilograms of 
silver;* every year he gave them 185,000 sacks of corn. When the time 
came to pay the workmen employed by the state he found his treasury 
empty.* 71 More and more the people starved in order that the gods might 

Under such a policy it was only a matter of time before the kings 
would become the servants of the priests. In the reign of the last Ramessid 
king the High Priest of Amon usurped the throne and ruled as openly 


supreme; the Empire became a stagnant theocracy in which architecture 
and superstition flourished, and every other element in the national life 
decayed. Omens were manipulated to give a divine sanction to every 
decision of the clergy. The most vital forces of Egypt were sucked dry 
by the thirst of the gods at the very time when foreign invaders were 
preparing to sweep down upon all this concentrated wealth. 

For meanwhile on every frontier trouble brewed. The prosperity of 
the country had come in part from its strategic place on the main line of 
Mediterranean trade; its metals and wealth had given it mastery over 
Libya on the west, and over Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine on the north 
and east. But now at the other end of this trade route in Assyria, Babylon 
and Persianew nations were growing to maturity and power, were 
strengthening themselves with invention and enterprise, and were daring 
to compete in commerce and industry with the self-satisfied and pious 
Egyptians. The Phoenicians were perfecting the trireme galley, and with 
it were gradually wresting from Egypt the control of the sea. The Dorians 
and Achaeans had conquered Crete and the jEgean (ca. 1400 B.C.), and 
were establishing a commercial empire of their own; trade moved less and 
less in slow caravans over the difficult and robber-infested mountains and 
deserts of the Near East; it moved more and more, at less expense and with 
less loss, in ships that passed through the Black Sea and the jfcgean to 
Troy, Crete and Greece, at last to Carthage, Italy and Spain. The nations 
along the northern shores of the Mediterranean ripened and blossomed, 
the nations on the southern shores faded and rotted away. Egypt lost her 
trade, her gold, her power, her art, at last even her pride; one by one her 
rivals crept down upon her soil, harassed and conquered her, and laid 
her waste. 

In 954 B.C. the Libyans came in from the western hills, and laid about 
them with fury; in 722 the Ethiopians entered from the south, and avenged 
their ancient slavery; in 674 the Assyrians swept down from the north and 
subjected priest-ridden Egypt to tribute. For a time Psamtik, Prince of 
Sai's, repelled the invaders, and brought Egypt together again under his 
leadership. During his long reign, and those of his successors, came the 
"Sai'te Revival" of Egyptian art: the architects and sculptors, poets and 
scientists of Egypt gathered up the technical and esthetic traditions of their 
schools, and prepared to lay them at the feet of the Greeks. But in 525 
B.C. the Persians under Cambyses crossed Suez, and again put an end 
to Egyptian independence. In 332 B.C. Alexander sallied out of Asia, and 


made Egypt a province of Macedon.* In 48 B.C. Caesar arrived to capture 
Egypt's new capital, Alexandria, and to give to Cleopatra the son and heir 
whom they vainly hoped to crown as the unifying monarch of the greatest 
empires of antiquity." 77 In 30 B.C. Egypt became a province of Rome, and 
disappeared from history. 

For a time it flourished again when saints peopled the desert, and Cyril 
dragged Hypatia to her death in the streets (415 A.D.); and again when the 
Moslems conquered it (ca. A.D. 650), built Cairo with the ruins of Mem- 
phis, and filled it with bright-domed mosques and citadels. But these were 
alien cultures not really Egypt's own, and they too passed away. Today 
there is a place called Egypt, but the Egyptian people are not masters 
there; long since they have been broken by conquest, and merged in lan- 
guage and marriage with their Arab conquerors; their cities know only the 
authority of Moslems and Englishmen, and the feet of weary pilgrims who 
travel thousands of miles to find that the Pyramids are merely heaps of 
stones. Perhaps greatness could grow there again if Asia should once more 
become rich, and make Egypt the half-way house of the planet's trade. 
But of the morrow, as Lorenzo sang, there is no certainty; and today the 
only certainty is decay. On all sides gigantic ruins, monuments and tombs, 
memorials of a savage and titanic energy; on all sides poverty and desola- 
tion, and the exhaustion of an ancient blood. And on all sides the hostile, 
engulfing sands, blown about forever by hot winds, and grimly resolved 
to cover everything in the end. 

Nevertheless the sands have destroyed only the body of ancient Egypt; 
its spirit survives in the lore and memory of our race. The improvement 
of agriculture, metallurgy, industry and engineering; the apparent inven- 
tion of glass and linen, of paper and ink, of the calendar and the clock, of 
geometry and the alphabet; the refinement of dress and ornament, of furni- 
ture and dwellings, of society and life; the remarkable development of 
orderly and peaceful government, of census and post, of primary and 
secondary education, even of technical training for office and administra- 
tion; the advancement of writing and literature, of science and medicine; 
the first clear formulation known to us of individual and public con- 
science, the first cry for social justice, the first widespread monogamy, the 
first monotheism, the first essays in moral philosophy; the elevation of 

* The history of classical Egyptian civilization under the Ptolemies and the Caesars be- 
longs to a later volume. 


architecture, sculpture and the minor arts to a degree of excellence and 
power never (so far as we know) reached before, and seldom equaled 
since: these contributions were not lost, even when their finest exemplars 
were buried under the desert, or overthrown by some convulsion of the 
globe.* Through the Phoenicians, the Syrians and the Jews, through the 
Cretans, the Greeks and the Romans, the civilization of Egypt passed 
down to become part of the cultural heritage of mankind. The effect or 
remembrance of what Egypt accomplished at the very dawn of history has 
influence in every nation and every age. "It is even possible," as Faure 
has said, "that Egypt, through the solidarity, the unity, and the disciplined 
variety of its artistic products, through the enormous duration and the sus- 
tained power of its effort, offers the spectacle of the greatest civilization 
that has yet appeared on the earth." 278 We shall do well to equal it. 

* Thebes was finally destroyed by an earthquake in 27 B.C. 




Babylonian contributions to modern civilization The Land be- 
tween the Rivers Hammurabi His capital The Kassite 
Domination The Amarna letters The Assyrian Con- 
questNebuchadrezzarBabylon in the days of 
its glory 

IVILIZATION, like life, is a perpetual struggle with death. And as 
life maintains itself only by abandoning old, and recasting itself in 
younger and fresher, forms, so civilization achieves a precarious survival 
by changing its habitat or its blood. It moved from Ur to Babylon and 
Judea, from Babylon to Nineveh, from these to Persepolis, Sardis and 
Miletus, and from these, Egypt and Crete to Greece and Rome. 

No one looking at the site of ancient Babylon today would suspect that 
these hot and dreary wastes along the Euphrates were once the rich and 
powerful capital of a civilization that almost created astronomy, added 
richly to the progress of medicine, established the science of language, 
prepared the first great codes of law, taught the Greeks the rudiments of 
mathematics, physics and philosophy, 1 gave the Jews the mythology which 
they gave to the world, and passed on to the Arabs part of that scientific 
and architectural lore with which they aroused the dormant soul of medie- 
val Europe. Standing before the silent Tigris and Euphrates one finds it 
hard to believe that they are the same rivers that watered Sumeria and 
Akkad, and nourished the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. 

In some ways they are not the same rivers: not only because "one never 
steps twice into the same stream," but because these old rivers have long 
since remade their beds along new courses, 1 and "mow with their scythes 
of whiteness" 8 other shores. As in Egypt the Nile, so here the Tigris and 
the Euphrates provided, for thousands of miles, an avenue of commerce 
and in their southern reachesspringtime inundations that helped the 
peasant to fertilize his soil. For rain comes to Babylonia only in the winter 



months; from May to November it comes not at all; and the earth, but 
for the overflow of the rivers, would be as arid as northern Mesopotamia 
was then and is today. Through the abundance of the rivers and the toil 
of many generations of men, Babylonia became the Eden of Semitic 
legend, the garden and granary of western Asia.* 

"" Historically and ethnically Babylonia was a product of the union of the 
Akkadians and the Sumerians. Their mating generated the Babylonian 
type, in which the Akkadian Semitic strain proved dominant; their warfare 
ended in the triumph of Akkad, and the establishment of Babylon as the 
capital of all lower Mesopotamia. At the outset of this history stands 
the powerful figure of Hammurabi (2123-2081 B.C.) conqueror and law- 
giver through a reign of forty-three years. Primeval seals and inscriptions 
transmit him to us partially a youth full of fire and genius, a very whirl- 
wind in battle, who crushes all rebels, cuts his enemies into pieces, marches 
over inaccessible mountains, and never loses an engagement. Under him 
the petty warring states of the lower valley were forced into unity and 
peace, and disciplined into order and security by an historic code of laws. 
The Code of Hammurabi was unearthed at Susa in 1902, beautifully 
engraved upon a diorite cylinder that had been carried from Babylon to 
Elam (ca. noo B.C.) as a trophy of war.f Like that of Moses, this legis- 
lation was a gift from Heaven, for one side of the cylinder shows the King 
receiving the laws from Shamash, the Sun-god himself. The Prologue is 
almost in Heaven: 

When the lofty Anu, King of the Anunaki and Bel, Lord of 
Heaven and Earth, he who determines the destiny of the land, 
committed the rule of all mankind to Marduk; . . . when they 
pronounced the lofty name of Babylon; when they made it famous 
among the quarters of the world and in its midst established an 
everlasting kingdom whose foundations were firm as heaven and 
earth at that time Anu and Bel called me, Hammurabi, the ex- 
alted prince, the worshiper of the gods, to cause justice to prevail 
in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, to prevent the 
strong from oppressing the weak, . . . to enlighten the land and to 
further the welfare of the people. Hammurabi, the governor named 
by Bel, am I, who brought about plenty and abundance; who made 

* The Euphrates is one of the four rivers which, according to Genesis (ii, 14), flowed 
through Paradise, 
fit is now in the Louvre. 


everything for Nippur and Durilu complete; . . . who gave life to 
the city of Uruk; who supplied water in abundance to its inhabi- 
tants; . . . who made the city of Borsippa beautiful; . . . wlpo stored 
up grain for the mighty Urash; . . . who helped his people in time 
of need; who establishes in security their property in Babylon; the 
governor of the people, the servant, whose deeds are pleasing to 
Anunit. 4 

The words here arbitrarily underlined have a modern ring; one would 
not readily attribute them to an Oriental "despot" 2100 B.C., or suspect 
that the laws that they introduce were based upon Sumerian prototypes 
now six thousand years old. This ancient origin combined with Baby- 
lonian circumstance to give the Code a composite and heterogeneous char- 
acter. It begins with compliments to the gods, but takes no f urther notice 
of them in its astonishingly secular legislation. It mingles the most enlight- 
ened laws with the most barbarous punishments, and sets the primitive 
lex talionis and trial by ordeal alongside elaborate judicial procedures and 
a discriminating attempt to limit marital tyranny. 6 All in all, these 285 
laws, arranged almost scientifically under the headings of Personal Prop- 
erty, Real Estate, Trade and Business, the Family, Injuries, and Labor, 
form a code more advanced and civilized than that of Assyria a thousand 
and more years later, and in many respects "as good as that of a modern 
European state."'* There are few words finer in the history of law than 
those with which the great Babylonian brings his legislation to a close: 

The righteous laws which Hammurabi, the wise king, estab- 
lished, and (by which) he gave the land stable support and pure 
government. ... I am the guardian governor. ... In my bosom I 
carried the people of the land of Sumer and Akkad; ... in my wis- 
dom I restrained them, that the strong might not oppress the weak, 
and that they should give justice to the orphan and the widow. 
. . . Let any oppressed man, who has a cause, come before my 
image as king of righteousness! Let him read the inscription on my 
monument! Let him give heed to my weighty words! And may 
my monument enlighten him as to his cause, and may he under- 
stand his case! May he set his heart at ease, (exclaiming:) "Ham- 

* The "Mosaic Code" apparently borrows from it, or derives with it from a common 
original. The habit of stamping a legal contract with an official seal goes back to 


murabi indeed is a ruler who is like a real father to his people; 
... he has established prosperity for his people for all time, and 
given a pure government to the land." . . . 

In the days that are yet to come, for all future time, may the 
king who is in the land observe the words of righteousness which I 
have written upon my monument! 1 

This unifying legislation was but one of Hammurabi's accomplishments. 
At his command a great canal was dug between Kish and the Persian Gulf, 
thereby irrigating a large area of land, and protecting the cities of the south 
from the destructive floods which the Tigris had been wont to visit upon 
them. In another inscription which has found its devious way from his 
time to ours he tells us proudly how he gave water (that noble and unap- 
preciated commonplace, which was once a luxury), security and gov- 
ernment to many tribes. Even through the boasting (an honest mannerism 
of the Orient) we hear the voice of statesmanship. 

When Anu and Enlil (the gods of Uruk and Nippur) gave me 
the lands of Sumer and Akkad to rule, and they entrusted this 
sceptre to me, I dug the canal Htmmurabi-nukhush-nishi (Ham- 
murabi - the - Abundance - of - the - People ) , which bringeth copious 
water to the land of Sumer and Akkad. Its banks on both sides I 
turned into cultivated ground; I heaped up piles of grain, I pro- 
vided unfailing water for the lands. . . . The scattered people I 
gathered; with pasturage and water I provided them; I pastured 
them with abundance, and settled them in peaceful dwellings.' 

Despite the secular quality of his laws Hammurabi was clever enough 
, to gild his authority with the approval of the gods. He built temples as 
well as forts, and coddled the clergy by constructing at Babylon a gigantic 
sanctuary for Marduk and his wife (the national deities), and a massive 
granary to store up wheat for gods and priests. These and similar gifts 
were an astute investment, from which he expected steady returns in the 
awed obedience of the people. From their taxes he financed the forces 
of law and order, and had enough left over to beautify his capital. Palaces 
and temples rose on every hand; a bridge spanned the Euphrates to let the 
city spread itself along both banks; ships manned with ninety men plied up 


and down the river. Two thousand years before Christ Babylon was 
already one of the richest cities that history had yet known.* 

The people were of Semitic appearance, dark in hair and features, mas- 
culinely bearded for the most part, and occasionally bewigged. Both sexes 
wore the hak long; sometimes even the men dangled curls; frequently the 
men, as well as the women, disguised themselves with perfumes. The 
common dress for both sexes was a white linen tunic reaching to the feet; 
in the women it left one shoulder bare, in the men it was augmented with 
mantle and robe. As wealth grew, the people developed a taste for color, 
and dyed for themselves garments of blue on red, or red on blue, in stripes, 
circles, checks or dots. The bare feet of the Sumerian period gave way to 
shapely sandals, and the male head, in Hammurabi's time, was swathed in 
turbans. The women wore necklaces, bracelets and amulets, and strings of 
beads in their carefully coiffured hair; the men flourished walking-sticks 
with carved heads, and carried on their girdles the prettily designed seals 
with which they attested their letters and documents, fhe priests wore 
tall conical caps to conceal their humanity. 10 

It is almost a law of history that the same wealth that generates a civili- 
zation announces its decay. For wealth produces ease as well as art; it 
softens a people to the ways of luxury and peace, and invites invasion from 
stronger arms and hungrier mouths. On the eastern boundary of the new 
state a hardy tribe of mountaineers, the Kassites, looked with envy upon 
the riches of Babylon. Light years after Hammurabi's death they inun- 
dated the land, plundered it, retreated, raided it again and again, and 
finally settled down in it as conquerors and rulers; this is the normal 
origin of aristocracies. They were of non-Semitic stock, perhaps descend- 
ants of European immigrants from neolithic days; their victory over Sem- 
itic Babylon represented one more swing of the racial pendulum in west- 
ern Asia. For several centuries Babylonia lived in an ethnic and political 
chaos that put a stop to the development of science and art. 11 We have 
a kaleidoscope of this stifling disorder in the "Amarna" letters, in which 
the kinglets of Babylonia and Syria, having sent modest tribute to im- 
perial Egypt after the victories of Thutmose III, beg for aid against rebels 
and invaders, and quarrel about the value of the gifts that they exchange 

* "In all essentials Babylonia, in the time of Hammurabi, and even earlier, had reached a 
' pitch of material civilization which has never since been surpassed in Asia." Christopher 
Dawson, Enquiries into Religion and Culture, New York, 1933, p. 107. Perhaps we should 
except the ages of Xerxes I in Persia, Ming Huang in China, and Akbar in India. 


with the disdainful Amenhotep III and the absorbed and negligent 

The Kassites were expelled after almost six centuries of rule as disruptive 
as the similar sway of the Hyksos in Egypt. The disorder continued for 
four hundred years more under obscure Babylonian rulers, whose poly- 
syllabic roster might serve as an obbligato to Gray's Elegy ,t until the 
rising power of Assyria in the north stretched down its hand and brought 
Babylonia under the kings of Nineveh. When Babylon rebelled, Sennach- 
erib destroyed it almost completely; but the genial despotism of Esar- 
haddon restored it to prosperity and culture. The rise of the Medes 
weakened Assyria, and with their help Nabopolassar liberated Babylonia, 
set up an independent dynasty, and dying, bequeathed this second Baby- 
lonian kingdom to his son Nebuchadrezzar II, villain of the vengeful 
and legendary Book of Daniel. Nebuchadrezzar's inaugural address to 
Marduk, god-in-chief of Babylon, reveals a glimpse of an Oriental mon- 
arch's aims and character: 

As my precious life do I love thy sublime appearance! Outside 
of my city Babylon, I have not selected among all settlements any 
dwelling. ... At thy command, O merciful Marduk, may the house 
that I have built endure forever, may I be satiated with its splendor, 
attain old age therein, with abundant offspring, and receive therein 
tribute of the kings of all regions, from all mankind." 

He lived almost up to his hopes, for though illiterate and not unques- 
tionably sane, he became the most powerful ruler of his time in the 
Near East, and the greatest warrior, statesman and builder in all the suc- 
cession of Babylonian kings after Hammurabi himself. When Egypt 
conspired with Assyria to reduce Babylonia to vassalage again, Nebuchad- 

* The Amarna letters are dreary reading, full of adulation, argument, entreaty and com- 
plaint. Hear, e.g., Burraburiash II, King of Karduniash (in Mesopotamia), writing to 
Amenhotep HI about an exchange of royal gifts in which Burraburiash seems to have 
been worsted: "Ever since my mother and thy father sustained friendly relations with one 
another, they exchanged valuable presents; and the choicest desire, each of the other, they 
did not refuse. Now my brother (Amenhotep) has sent me as a present (only) two 
manehs of gold. But send me as much gold as thy father; and if it be less, let it be half 
of what thy father would send. Why didst thou send me only two manehs of gold?"" 

t Marduk-shapik-zeri, Ninurta-nadin-sham, Enlil-nadin-apli, Itti-Marduk-balatu, Marduk- 
shapik-zer-mati, etc. Doubtless our own full names, linked with such hyphens, would 
make a like cacophony to alien ears. 


rezzar met the Egyptian hosts at Carchemish (on the upper reaches of the 
Euphrates), and almost annihilated them. Palestine and Syria then fell 
easily under his sway, and Babylonian merchants controlled all the trade 
that flowed across western Asia from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterran- 
ean Sea. 

Nebuchadrezzar spent the tolls of this trade, the tributes of these sub- 
jects, and the taxes of his people, in beautifying his capital and assuaging 
the hunger of the priests. "Is not this the great Babylon that I built?" 1 * 
He resisted the temptation to be merely a conqueror; he sallied forth occa- 
sionally to teach his subjects the virtues of submission, but for the most 
part he stayed at home, making Babylon the unrivaled capital of the Near 
East, the largest and most magnificent metropolis of the ancient world. 1 * 
Nabopolassar had laid plans for the reconstruction of the city; Nebuchad- 
rezzar used his long reign of forty-three years to carry them to comple- 
tion. Herodotus, who saw Babylon a century and a half later, described 
it as "standing in a spacious plain," and surrounded by a wall fifty-six 
miles in length," so broad that a four-horse chariot could be driven along 
the top, and enclosing an area of some two hundred square miles. 18 * 
Through the center of the town ran the palm-fringed Euphrates, busy 
with commerce and spanned by a handsome bridge. 19 ! Practically all the 
better buildings were of brick, for stone was rare in Mesopotamia; but 
the bricks were often faced with enameled tiles of brilliant blue, yellow or 
white, adorned with animal and other figures in glazed relief, which remain 
to this day supreme in their kind. Nearly all the bricks so far recovered 
from the site of Babylon bear the proud inscription: "I am Nebuchad- 
rezzar, King of Babylon." 31 

Approaching the city the traveler saw first at the crown of a very 
mountain of masonry an immense and lofty ziggurat, rising in seven stages 
of gleaming enamel to a height of 650 feet, crowned with a shrine con- 
taining a massive table of solid gold, and an ornate bed on which, each 
night, some woman slept to await the pleasure of the god. 28 This structure, 
taller than the pyramids of Egypt, and surpassing in height all but the 
latest of modern buildings, was probably the "Tower of Babel" of He- 
braic myth, the many-storied audacity of a people who did not know 

* Probably this included not only the city proper but a large agricultural hinterland 
within the walls, designed to provide the teeming metropolis with sustenance in time of 

t If we may trust Diodoms Siculus, a tunnel fifteen feet wide and twelve feet high 'con- 
nected the two banks.*' 


Yahveh, and whom the God of Hosts was supposed to have confounded 
with a multiplicity of tongues.* South of the ziggurat stood the gigantic 
Temple of Marduk, tutelary deity of Babylon. Around and below this 
temple the city spread itself out in a few wide and brilliant avenues, crossed 
by crowded canals and narrow winding streets alive, no doubt, with traffic 
and bazaars, and Orientally odorous with garbage and humanity. Con- 
necting the temples was a spacious "Sacred Way," paved with asphalt- 
covered bricks overlaid with flags of limestone and red breccia-, over this 
the gods might pass without muddying their feet. This broad avenue 
was flanked with walls of colored tile, on which stood out, in low relief, 
one hundred and twenty brightly enameled lions, snarling to keep the 
impious away. At one end of the Sacred Way rose the magnificent 
Ishtar Gate, a massive double portal of resplendent tiles, adorned with 
enameled flowers and animals of admirable color, vitality, and line.f 

Six hundred yards north of the "Tower of Babel" rose a mound called 
Kasr, on which Nebuchadrezzar built the most imposing of his palaces. 
At its center stood his principal dwelling-place, the walls of finely made 
yellow brick, the floors of white and mottled sandstone; reliefs of vivid 
blue glaze adorned the surfaces, and gigantic basalt lions guarded the 
entrance. Nearby, supported on a succession of superimposed circular 
colonnades, were the famous Hanging Gardens, which the Greeks in- 
cluded among the Seven Wonders of the World. The gallant Nebuchad- 
rezzar had built them for one of his wives, the daughter of Cyaxares, 
King of the Medes; this princess, unaccustomed to the hot sun and dust of 
Babylon, pined for the verdure of her native hills. The topmost terrace 
was covered with rich soil to the depth of many feet, providing space and 
nourishment not merely for varied flowers and plants, but for the largest 
and most deep-rooted trees. Hydraulic engines concealed in the columns 
and manned by shifts of slaves carried water from the Euphrates to the 
highest tier of the gardens. 24 Here, seventy-five feet above the ground, in 
the cool shade of tall trees, and surrounded by exotic shrubs and fragrant 
flowers, the ladies of the royal harem walked unveiled, secure from the 
common eye; while, in the plains and streets below, the common man and 
woman ploughed, wove, built, carried burdens, and reproduced their 

* Babel, however, does not mean confusion or babble, as the legend supposes; as used in 
the word Babylon it meant the Gate of God." 13 

tA reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate can be seen in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, 



Hunting - Tillage - Food - Industry - Transport - The perils 
of commerce Money -lenders Slaves 

Part of the country was still wild and dangerous; snakes wandered in 
the thick grass, and the kings of Babylonia and Assyria made it their royal 
sport to hunt in hand-to-hand conflict the lions that prowled in the woods, 
posed placidly for artists, but fled timidly at the nearer approach of men. 
Civilization is an occasional and temporary interruption of the jungle. 

Most of the soil was tilled by tenants or by slaves; some of it by peasant 
proprietors.* In the earlier centuries the ground was broken up with stone 
"hoes, as in neolithic tillage; a seal dating some 1400 B.C. is our earliest 
representation of the plough in Babylonia. Probaby this ancient and hon- 
orable tool had already a long history behind it in the Land between the 
Rivers; and yet it was modern enough, for though it was drawn by oxen 
in the manner of our fathers, it had, attached to the plough, as in Sumeria, a 
tube through which the seed was sown in the manner of our children." 8 
The waters of the rising rivers were not allowed to flood the land as in 
Egypt; on the contrary, every farm was protected from the inundation by 
ridges of earth, some of which can still be seen today. The overflow was 
guided into a complex network of canals, or stored into reservoirs, from 
which it was sluiced into the fields as needed, or raised over the ridges by 
shadufs buckets lifted and lowered on a pivoted and revolving pole. Neb- 
uchadrezzar distinguished his reign by building many canals, and gather- 
ing the surplus waters of the overflow into a reservoir, one hundred and 
forty miles in circumference, which nourished by its outlets vast areas of 
land." Ruins of these canals can be seen in Mesopotamia today, andas if 
further to bind the quick and the dead the primitive shaduf is still in use in 
the valleys of the Euphrates and the Loire." 

So watered, the land produced a variety of cereals and pulses, great orchards 
of fruits and nuts, and above all, the date; from this beneficent concoction 
of sun and soil the Babylonians made bread, honey, cake and other delica- 
cies; they mixed it with meal to make one of their most sustaining foods; 
and to encourage its reproduction they shook the flowers of the male palm 
over those of the female." From Mesopotamia the grape and the olive 
were introduced into Greece and Rome and thence into western Europe; 
from nearby Persia came the peach; and from the shores of the Black Sea 
Lucullus brought the cherry-tree to Rome. Milk, so rare in the distant 
Orient, now became one of the staple foods of the Near East. Meat was 
rare and costly, but fish from the great streams found their way into the 


poorest mouths. And in the evening, when the peasant might have been dis- 
turbed by thoughts on life and death, he quieted memory and anticipation 
with wine pressed from the date, or beer brewed from die corn. 

Meanwhile others pried into the earth, struck oil, and mined copper, lead, 
iron, silver and gold. Strabo tells how what he calls "naphtha or liquid as- 
phalt" was taken from the soil of Mesopotamia then as now, and how Alex- 
ander, hearing that this was a kind of water that burned, tested the report, 
incredulously by covering a boy with the strange fluid and igniting hinr 
with a torch. 80 Tools, which had still been of stone in the days of Ham- 
murabi, began, at the turn of the last millennium before Christ, to be made of 
bronze, then of iron; and the art of casting metal appeared. Textiles were 
woven of cotton and wool; stuffs were dyed and embroidered with such 
skill that these tissues became one of the most valued exports of Babylonia, 
praised to the skies by the writers of Greece and Rome. 81 As far back as we 
can go in Mesopotamian history we find the weaver's loom and the potter's 
wheel; these were almost the only machines. Buildings were mostly of 
adobeclay mixed with straw; or bricks still soft and moist were placed one 
upon the other and allowed to dry into a solid wall cemented by the sun. 
It was observed that the bricks in the fireplace became harder and more 
durable than those that the sun had baked; the process of hardening them in 
kilns was then a natural development, and thenceforth there was no end to 
the making of bricks in Babylon. Trades multiplied and became diversified 
and skilled, and as early as Hammurabi industry was organized into guilds 
(called "tribes") of masters and apprentices." 

Local transport used wheeled carts drawn by patient asses. 88 The horse 
is first mentioned in Babylonian records about 2100 B.C., as ^the ass from 
the East"; apparently it came from the table-lands of Central Asia, conquered 
Babylonia with the Kassites, and reached Egypt with the Hyksos. 84 With 
this new means of locomotion and carriage, trade expanded from local to 
foreign commerce; Babylon grew wealthy as the commercial hub of the 
Near East, and the nations of the ancient Mediterranean world were drawn 
into closer contact for good and ill. Nebuchadrezzar facilitated trade by im- 
proving the highways; "I have turned inaccessible tracks," he reminds the 
historian, "into serviceable roads."* Countless caravans brought to the ba- 
zaars and shops of Babylon the products of half the world. From India 
they came via Kabul, Herat and Ecbatana; from Egypt via Pelusium and 
Palestine; from Asia Minor through Tyre, Sidon and Sardis to Carchemish, 
and then down the Euphrates. As a result of all this trade Babylon became, 
under Nebuchadrezzar, a thriving and noisy market-place, from which the 
wealthy sought refuge in residential suburbs. Note the contemporary ring 
of a rich suburbanite's letter to King Cyrus of Persia (ca. 539 B.C.): "Our 


estate seemed to me the finest in the world, for it was so near to Babylon 
that we enjoyed all the advantages of a great city, and yet could come back 
1 home and be rid of all its rush and worry." 88 

Government in Mesopotamia never succeeded in establishing such eco- 
nomic order as that which the Pharaohs achieved in Egypt. Commerce was 
harassed with a multiplicity of dangers and tolls; the merchant did not know 
which to fear the more the robbers that might beset him on the way, or the 
towns and baronies that exacted heavy fees from him for the privilege of 
using their roads. It was safer, where possible, to take the great national 
highway, the Euphrates, which Nebuchadrezzar had made navigable from 
the Persian Gulf to Thapsacus. 87 His campaigns in Arabia and his subjuga- 
tion of Tyre opened up to Babylonian commerce the Indian and Mediterra- 
nean Seas, but these opportunities were only partially explored. For on the 
open sea, as in the mountain passes and the desert wastes, perils beset the 
merchant at every hour. Vessels were large, but reefs were many and 
treacherous; navigation was not yet a science; and at any moment pirates, or 
the ambitious dwellers on the shore, might board the ships, appropriate the 
merchandise, and enslave or kill the crew. 88 The merchants reimbursed 
themselves for such losses by restricting their honesty to the necessities of 
each situation. 

These difficult transactions were made easier by a well-developed system 
of finance. The Babylonians had no coinage, but even before Ham- 
murabi they used besides barley and corn ingots of gold and silver as 
standards of value and mediums of exchange. The metal was unstamped, 
and was weighed at each transaction. The smallest unit of currency was 
the shekel a half-ounce of silver worth from $2.50 to $5.00 of our con- 
temporary currency; sixty such shekels made a mina, and sixty mlnas made a 
talent from $10,000 to $2o,ooo. Mtt Loans were made in goods or currency, 
but at a high rate^ of interest, fixed by the state at 20% per annum for loans of 
money, and 33% for loans in kind; even these rates were exceeded by lenders 
who could hire clever scribes to circumvent the law. 39 There were no banks, 
but certain powerful families carried on from generation to generation the 
business of lending money; they dealt also in real estate, and financed indus- 
trial enterprises; 40 and persons who had funds on deposit with such men could 
pay their obligations by written drafts. 41 The priests also made loans, particu- 
larly to finance the sowing and reaping of the crops. The law occasionally took 
the side of the debtor: e.g., if a peasant mortgaged his farm, and through storm 
or drought or other "act of God" had no harvest from his toil, then no in- 
terest could be exacted from him in that year. 42 But for the most part the 
law was written with an eye to protecting property and preventing losses; 


it was a principle of Babylonian law that no man had a right to borrow 
money unless he wished to be held completely responsible for its repay- 
ment; hence the creditor could seize the debtor's slave or son as hostage 
for an unpaid debt, and could hold him for not more than three years. A 
plague of usury was the price that Babylonian industry, like our own, paid 
for the fertilizing activity of a complex credit system. 48 

It was eggentially a commercial civilization. Most of the documents that 
have come down from it are of a business character sales, loans, contracts, 
partnerships, commissions, exchanges, bequests, agreements, promissory notes, 
and the like. We find in these tablets abundant evidence of wealth, and a 
certain materialistic spirit that managed, like some later civilizations, to re- 
concile piety with greed. We see in the literature many signs of a busy and 
prosperous life, but we find also, at every turn, reminders of the slavery 
that underlies all cultures. The most interesting contracts of sale from the 
age of Nebuchadrezzar are those that have to do with slaves." They were 
recruited from captives taken in battle, from slave-raids carried out upon 
foreign states by marauding Bedouins, and from the reproductive enthusiasm 
of the slaves themselves. Their value ranged from $20 to $65 for a woman, 
and from $50 to $100 for a man. 46 Most of the physical work in the towns 
was done by them, including nearly all of the personal service. Female slaves 
were completely at the mercy of their purchaser, and were expected to pro- 
vide him with bed as well as board; it was understood that he would breed 
through them a copious supply of children, and those slaves who were not 
so treated felt themselves neglected and dishonored. 40 The slave and all his 
belongings were his master's property: he might be sold or pledged for debt; 
he might be put to death if his master thought him less lucrative alive than 
dead; if he ran away no one could legally harbor him, and a reward was 
fixed for his capture. Like the free peasant he was subject to conscription 
for both the army and the corvee i.e., for forced labor in such public 
works as cutting roads and digging canals. On the other hand the slave's 
master paid his doctor's fees, and kept him moderately alive through illness, 
slack employment and old age. He might marry a free woman, and his 
children by her would be free; half his property, in such a case, went on his 
death to his family. He might be set up in business by his master, and re- 
tain part of the profits with which he might then buy his freedom; or his 
master might liberate him for exceptional or long and faithful service. But 
only a few slaves achieved such freedom. The rest consoled themselves 
with a high birth-rate, until they became more numerous than the free. A 
great slave-class moved like a swelling subterranean river underneath the 
Babylonian state. 



The Code of HammurabiThe powers of the king Trial by 

ordeal Lex Talionis" Forms of punishment Codes of 

'wages and prices State restoration of stolen goods 

Such a society, of course, never dreamed of democracy; its economic 
character necessitated a monarchy supported by commercial wealth or 
feudal privilege, and protected by the judicious distribution of legal vio- 
lence. A landed aristocracy, gradually displaced by a commercial plutoc- 
racy, helped to maintain social control, and served as intermediary between 
people and king. The latter passed his throne down to any son of his 
choosing, with the result that every son considered himself heir apparent, 
formed a clique of supporters, and, as like as not, raised a war of suc- 
cession if his hopes were unfulfilled. 47 Within the limits of this arbitrary 
rule the government was carried on by central and local lords or admin- 
istrators appointed by the king. These were advised and checked by 
provincial or municipal assemblies of elders or notables, who managed to 
maintain, even under Assyrian domination, a proud measure of local 
self-government. 48 

Every administrator, and usually the king himself, acknowledged the 
guidance and authority of that great body of law which had been given 
form under Hammurabi, and had maintained its substance, despite every 
change of circumstance and detail, through fifteen centuries. The legal 
development was from supernatural to secular sanctions, from severity to 
lenience, and from physical to financial penalties. In the earlier days an 
appeal to the gods was taken through trial by ordeal. A man accused of 
sorcery, or a woman charged with adultery, was invited to leap into the 
Euphrates; and the gods were on the side of the best swimmers. If the 
woman emerged alive, she was innocent; if the "sorcerer" was drowned, 
his accuser received his property; if he was not, he received the property 
of his accuser. 40 The first judges were priests, and to the end of Baby- 
lonian history the courts were for the most part located in the temples; 10 
but already in the days of Hammurabi secular courts responsible only to 
the government were replacing the judgment-seats presided over by the 

Penology began with the lex talionis, or law of equivalent retaliation. 
If a man knocked out an eye or a tooth, or broke a limb, of a patrician, 


precisely the same was to be done to him. 81 If a house collapsed and killed 
the purchaser, the architect or builder must die; if the accident killed the 
buyer's son, the son of the architect or builder must die; if a man struck 
a girl and killed her not he but his daughter must suffer the penalty of 
death." Gradually these punishments in kind were replaced by awards of 
damages; a payment of money was permitted as an alternative to the 
physical retaliation," and later the fine became the sole punishment. So 
the eye of a commoner might be knocked out for sixty shekels of silver, 
and the eye of a slave might be knocked out for thirty. 54 For the penalty 
varied not merely with the gravity of the offense, but with the rank of the 
offender and the victim. A member of the aristocracy was subject to 
severer penalties for the same crime than a man of the people, but an of- 
fense against such an aristocrat was a costly extravagance. A plebeian , 
striking a plebeian was fined ten shekels, or fifty dollars; to strike a person 
of title or property cost six times more." From such dissuasions the law 
passed to barbarous punishments by amputation or death. A man who 
struck his father had his hands cut off ; M a physician whose patient died, or 
lost an eye, as the result of an operation, had his fingers cut off;" a nurse 
who knowingly substituted one child for another had to sacrifice her 
breasts." Death was decreed for a variety of crimes: rape, kidnaping, 
brigandage, burglary, incest, procurement of a husband's death by his wife 
in order to marry another man, the opening or entering of a wine-shop 
by a priestess, the harboring of a fugitive slave, cowardice in the face of 
the enemy, malfeasance in office, careless or uneconomical housewifery," 
or malpractice in the selling of beer." In such rough ways, through thou- 
sands of years, those traditions and habits of order and self-restraint were 
established which became part of the unconscious basis of civilization. 

Within certain limits the state regulated prices, wages and fees. What 
the surgeon might charge was established by law; and wages were fixed 
by the Code of Hammurabi for builders, brickmakers, tailors, stone- 
masons, carpenters, boatmen, herdsmen, and laborers." The law of in- 
heritance made the man's children, rather than his wife, his natural and 
direct heirs; the widow received her dowry and her wedding-gift, and re- 
mained head of the household as long as she lived. There was no right of 
primogeniture; the sons inherited equally, and in this way the largest 
estates were soon redivided, and the concentration of wealth was in some 
measure checked." Private property in land and goods was taken for 
granted by the Code. 


We find no evidence of lawyers in Babylonia, except for priests who 
might serve as notaries, and the scribe who would write for pay anything 
from a will to a madrigal. The plaintiff preferred his own plea, without 
the luxury of terminology. Litigation was discouraged; the very first 
law of the Code reads, with almost illegal simplicity: "If a man bring 
an accusation against a man, and charge him with a (capital) crime, but 
cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death." 03 There are signs 
of bribery, and of tampering with witnesses. 04 A court of appeals, staffed 
by "the King's Judges," sat at Babylon, and a final appeal might be car- 
ried to the king himself. There was nothing in the Code about the 
rights of the individual against the state; that was to be a European inno- 
vation. But articles 22-24 provided, if not political, at least economic, 
protection. "If a man practise brigandage and be captured, that man 
shall be put to death. If the brigand be not captured, the man who has 
been robbed shall, in the presence of the god, make an itemized statement 
of his loss, and the city and governor within whose province and juris- 
diction the robbery was committed shall compensate him for whatever 
was lost. If it be a life (that was lost), the city and governor shall pay 
one mina ($300) to the heirs." What modern city is so well governed 
that it would dare to offer such reimbursements to the victims of its neg- 
ligence? Has the law progressed since Hammurabi, or only increased 
and multiplied? 


Religion and the stateThe junctions and powers of the clergy The 
lesser gods Marduklshtar The Babylonian stories of the Crea- 
tion and the Flood The love of Ishtar and TammuzThe de- 
scent of Ishtar into Hell The death and resurrection of 
Tammuz Ritual and prayer Penitential psahns Sin- 
Magic Superstition 

The power of the king was limited not only by the law and the aris- 
tocracy, but by the clergy. Technically the king was merely the agent 
of the city god. Taxation was in the name of the god, and found its 
way directly or deviously into the temple treasuries. The king was not 
really king in the eyes of the people until he was invested with royal 
authority by the priests, "took the hands of Bel," and conducted the 


image of Marduk in solemn procession through the streets. In these 
ceremonies the monarch was dressed as a priest, symbolizing the union of 
church and state, and perhaps the priestly origin of the kingship. All the 
glamor of the supernatural hedged about the throne, and made rebellion 
a colossal impiety which risked not only the neck but the soul. Even the 
mighty Hammurabi received his laws from the god. From the patesis 
or priest-governors of Sumeria to the religious coronation of Nebuchad- 
rezzar, Babylonia remained in effect a theocratic state, always "under the 
thumb of the priests." 85 

The wealth of the temples grew from generation to generation, as the 
uneasy rich shared their dividends with the gods. The kings, feeling an 
especial need of divine forgiveness, built the temples, equipped them with 
furniture, food and slaves, deeded to them great areas of land, and as- 
signed to them an annual income from the state. When the army won a 
battle, the first share of the captives and the spoils went to the temples; 
when any special good fortune befell the king, extraordinary gifts were 
dedicated to the gods. Certain lands were required to pay to the temples 
a yearly tribute of dates, corn, or fruit; if they failed, the temples could 
foreclose on them; and in this way the lands usually came into pos- 
session by the priests. Poor as well as rich turned over to the temples 
as much as they thought profitable of their earthly gains. Gold, silver, 
copper, lapis lazuli, gems and precious woods accumulated in the sacred 

As the priests could not directly use or consume this wealth, they 
turned it into productive or investment capital, and became the greatest 
agriculturists, manufacturers and financiers of the nation. Not only did 
they hold vast tracts of land; they owned a great number of slaves, or con- 
trolled hundreds of laborers, who were hired out to other employers, or 
worked for the temples in their divers trades from the playing of music 
to the brewing of beer." The priests were also the greatest merchants 
and financiers of Babylonia; they sold the varied products of the temple 
shops, and handled a large proportion of the country's trade; they had 
a reputation for wise investment, and many persons entrusted their sav- 
ings to them, confident of a modest but reliable return. They made loans 
on more lenient terms than the private money-lenders; sometimes they 
lent to the sick or the poor without interest, merely asking a return of the 
principal when Marduk should smile upon the borrower again." Finally, 


they performed many legal functions: they served as notaries, attesting 
and signing contracts, and making wills; they heard and decided suits and 
trials, kept official records, and recorded commercial transactions. 

Occasionally the king commandeered some of the temple accumula- 
tions to meet an expensive emergency. But this was rare and dangerous, for 
the priests had laid terrible curses upon all who should touch, unpermit- 
ted, the smallest jot of ecclesiastical property. Besides, their influence 
with the people was ultimately greater than that of the king, and they 
might in most cases depose him if they set their combined wits and powers 
to this end. They had also the advantage of permanence; the king died, 
but the god lived on; the council of priests, free from the fortunes of 
elections, illnesses, assassinations and wars, had a corporate perpetuity that 
made possible long-term and patient policies, such as characterize great 
religious organizations to this day. The supremacy of the priests under 
these conditions was inevitable. It was fated that the merchants should 
make Babylon, and that the priests should enjoy it. 

Who were the gods that formed the invisible constabulary of the 
state? They were numerous, for the imagination of the people was limit- 
less, and there was hardly any end to the needs that deities might serve. 
An official census of the gods, undertaken in the ninth century before 
Christ, counted them as some 65,000." Every town had its tutelary 
divinity; and as, in our own time^ifrfTaith, localities and villages, after 
making formal acknowledgment of the Supreme Being, worship specific 
minor gods with a special devotion, so Larsa lavished its temples on 
Shamash, Uruk on Ishtar, Ur on Nannar for the Sumerian pantheon had 
survived the Sumerian state. The gods were not aloof from men; most 
of them lived on earth in the temples, ate with a hearty appetite, and 
through nocturnal visits to pious women gave unexpected children to 
the busy citizens of Babylon. 69 

Oldest of all were the astronomic gods: Anu, the immovable firmament, 
Shamash, the sun, Nannar, the moon, and Bel or Baal, the earth into whose 
bosom all Babylonians returned after death. 70 Every family had household 
gods, to whom prayers were said and libations poured each morning and 
night; every individual had a protective divinity (or, as we should say, a 
guardian angel) to keep him from harm and joy; and genii of fertility hov- 
ered beneficently over the fields. It was probably out of this multitude of 
spirits that the Jews moulded their cherubim. 


We do not find among the Babylonians such signs of monotheism as appear 
in Ikhnaton and the Second Isaiah. Two forces, however, brought them near 
to it: the enlargement of the state by conquest and growth brought local 
deities under the supremacy of a single god; and several of the cities patrioti- 
cally conferred omnipotence upon their favored divinities. "Trust in Nebo," 
says Nebo, "trust in no other god"; 71 this is not unlike the first of the com- 
mandments given to the Jews. Gradually the number of the gods was less- 
ened by interpreting the minor ones as forms or attributes of the major dei- 
ties. In these ways the god of Babylon, Marduk, originally a sun god, 
became sovereign of all Babylonian divinities. 72 Hence his title, Bel-Marduk 
that is, Marduk the god. To him and to Ishtar the Babylonians sent up the 
most eloquent of their prayers. 

Ishtar (Astarte to the Greeks, Ashtoreth to the Jews) interests us 
not only as analogue of the Egyptian Isis and prototype of the Grecian 
Aphrodite and the Roman Venus, but as the formal beneficiary of one 
of the strangest of Babylonian customs. She was Demeter as well as 
Aphrodite no mere goddess of physical beauty and love, but the gracious 
divinity of bounteous motherhood, the secret inspiration of the growing 
soil, and the creative principle everywhere. It is impossible to find much * 
harmony, from a modern point of view, in the attributes and functions of 
Ishtar: she was the goddess of war as well as of love, of prostitutes as well 
as of mothers; she called herself "a compassionate courtesan"; 78 she was 
represented sometimes as a bearded bisexual deity, sometimes as a nude 
female offering her breasts to suck; 74 and though her worshipers repeat- 
edly addressed her as "The Virgin," "The Holy Virgin," and "The 
Virgin Mother," this merely meant that her amours were free from all 
taint of wedlock. Gilgamesh rejected her advances on the ground that 
she could not be trusted; had she not once loved, seduced, and then slain, 
a lion? 78 It is clear that we must put our own moral code to one side if 
we are to understand her. Note with what fervor the Babylonians could 
lift up to her throne litanies of laudation only less splendid than those which 
a tender piety once raised to the Mother of God: 

I beseech thee, Lady of Ladies, Goddess of Goddesses, Ishtar, Queen 

of all cities, leader of all men. 
Thou art the light of the world, thou art the light of heaven, mighty 

daughter of Sin (the moon-god). . . . 
Supreme is thy might, O Lady, exalted art thou above all gods. 


Thou renderest judgment, and thy decision is righteous. 

Unto thec are subject the laws of the earth and the laws of heaven, 

the laws of the temples and the shrines, the laws of the private 

apartment and the secret chamber. 
Where is the place where thy name is not, and where is the spot 

where thy commandments are not known? 
At thy name the earth and the heavens shake, and the gods they 

tremble. . . . 
Thou lookest upon the oppressed, and to the down-trodden thou 

bringest justice every day. 

How long, Queen of Heaven and Earth, how long, 
How long, Shepherdess of pale-faced men, wilt thou tarry? 
How long, O Queen whose feet are not weary, and whose knees 

make haste? 

How long, Lady of Hosts, Lady of Battles? 
Glorious one whom all the spirits of heaven fear, who subduest all 

angry gods; mighty above all rulers; who boldest the reins of kings. 
Opener of the womb of all women, great is thy light. 
Shining light of heaven, light of the world, cnlightencr of all the 

places where men dwell, who gatherest together the hosts of the 


Goddess of men, Divinity of women, thy counsel passeth under- 
Where thou glancest, the dead come to life, and the sick rise and 

walk; the mind of the diseased is healed when it looks upon thy 


How long, O Lady, shall mine enemy triumph over me? 
Command, and at thy command the angry god will turn back. 
Ishtar is great! Ishtar is Queen! My Lady is exalted, my Lady is 

Queen, Innini, the mighty daughter. of Sin. 
There is none like unto her. 76 

With these gods as dramatis persons the Babylonians constructed myths 
which, have in large measure come down to us, through the Jews, as part 
of our own religious lore. There was first of all the myth of the crea- 
tion. In the beginning was Chaos. "In the time when nothing which was 
called heaven existed above, and when nothing below had yet received 
the name of earth, Apsu, the Ocean, who first was their father, and 
Tiamat, Chaos, who gave birth to them all, mingled their waters in one." 
Things slowly began to grow and take form; but suddenly the monster- 


goddess Tiamat set out to destroy all the other gods, and to make her- 
selfChaos supreme. A mighty revolution ensued in which all order was 
destroyed. Then another god, Marduk, slew Tiamat with her own medi- 
cine by casting a hurricane of wind into her mouth as she opened it to 
swallow him; then he thrust his lance into Tiamat's wind-swollen paunch, 
and the goddess of Chaos blew up. Marduk, "recovering his calm," says the 
legend, split the dead Tiamat into two longitudinal halves, as one does 
a fish for drying; "then he hung up one of the halves on high, which be- 
came the heavens; the other half he spread out under his feet to form the 
earth." 77 This is as much as we yet know about creation. Perhaps the 
ancient poet meant to suggest that the only creation of which we can 
know anything is the replacement of chaos with order, for in the end 
this is the essence of art and civilization. We should remember, however, 
that the defeat of Chaos is only a myth.* 

Having moved heaven and earth into place, Marduk undertook to 
knead earth with his blood and thereby make men for the service of the 
gods. Mesopotamian legends differed on the precise way in which this 
was done; they agreed in general that man was fashioned by the deity 
from a lump of clay. Usually they represented him as living at first not 
in a paradise but in bestial simplicity and ignorance, until a strange mon- 
ster called Cannes, half fish and half philosopher, taught him the arts 
and sciences, the rules for founding cities, and the principles of law; after 
which Cannes plunged into the sea, and wrote a book on the history of 
civilization. 79 Presently, however, the gods became dissatisfied with the 
men whom they had created, and sent a great flood to destroy them and 
all their works. The god of wisdom, Ea, took pity on mankind, and 
resolved to save one man at least Shamash-napishtim and his wife. The 
flood raged; men "encumbered the sea like fishes' spawn." Then sud- 
denly the gods wept and gnashed their teeth at their own folly, asking 
themselves, "Who will make the accustomed offerings now?" But Sham- 
ash-napishtim had built an ark, had survived the flood, had perched on 
the mountain of Nisir, and had sent out a reconnoitering dove; now he 
decided to sacrifice to the gods, who accepted his gifts with surprise and 
gratitude. "The gods snuffed up the odor, the gods snuffed up the ex- 
cellent odor, the gods gathered like flies above the offering." 80 

* The Babylonian story of creation consists of seven tablets (one for each day of crea- 
tion) found in the ruins of Ashurbanipal's library at Kuyunjik (Nineveh) in 1854; they 
are a copy of a legend that came down to Babylonia and Assyria from Sumeria. 78 


Lovelier than this vague memory of some catastrophic inundation is 
the vegetation myth of Ishtar and Tammuz. In the Sumerian f orm of the 
tale Tammuz is Ishtar's young brother; in the Babylonian form he is some- 
times her lover, sometimes her son; both forms seem to have entered into 
the myths of Venus and Adonis, Demeter and Persephone, and a hun- 
dred scattered legends of death and resurrection. Tammuz, son of the 
great god Ea, is a shepherd pasturing his flock under the great tree Erida 
(which covers the whole earth with its shade) when Ishtar, always in- 
satiable, falls in love with him, and chooses him to be the spouse of her 
youth. But Tammuz, like Adonis, is gored to death by a wild boar, and 
descends, like all the dead, into that dark subterranean Hades which the 
Babylonians called Aralu, and over which they set as ruler Ishtar's 
jealous sister, Ereshkigal. Ishtar, mourning inconsolably, resolves to go 
down to Aralu and restore Tammuz to life by bathing his wounds in the 
waters of a healing spring. Soon she appears at the gates of Hades in all 
her imperious beauty, and demands entrance. The tablets tell the story 

When Ereshkigal heard this, 

As when one hews down a tamarisk (she trembled?). 

As when one cuts a reed (she shook?). 

"What has moved her heart, what has (stirred) her liver? 

Ho, there, (does) this one (wish to dwell) with me? 

To eat clay as food, to drink (dust?) as wine? 

I weep for the men who have left their wives; 

I weep for the wives torn from the embrace of their husbands; 

For the little ones (cut off) before their time. 

Go, gate-keeper, open thy gate for her, 

Deal with her according to the ancient decree." 

The ancient decree is that none but the nude shall enter Aralu. There- 
fore at each of the successive gates through which Ishtar must pass, the 
keeper divests her of some garment or ornament: first her crown, then 
her ear-rings, then her necklace, then the ornaments from her bosom, 
then her many-jeweled girdle, then the spangles from her hands and 
feet, and lastly her loin-cloth; and Ishtar, protesting gracefully, yields. 

Now when Ishtar had gone down into the land of no return, 
Ereshkigal saw her and was angered at her presence. 


Ishtar without reflection threw herself at her. 

Ereshkigal opened her mouth and spoke 

To Namtar, her messenger. . . . 

"Go, Namtar, (imprison her?) in my palace. 

Send against her sixty diseases, 

Eye disease against her eyes, 

Disease of the side against her side, 

Foot-disease against her foot, 

Heart-disease against her heart, 

Head-disease against her head, 

Against her whole being." 

While Ishtar is detained in Hades by these sisterly attentions, the earth, 
missing the inspiration of her presence, forgets incredibly all the arts and 
ways of love: plant no longer fertilizes plant, vegetation languishes, ani- 
mals experience no heat, men cease to yearn. 

After the lady Ishtar had gone down into the land of no return, 
The bull did not mount the cow, the ass approached not the she-ass; 
To the maid in the street no man drew near; 
The man slept in his apartment, 
The maid slept by herself. 

Population begins to diminish, and the gods note with alarm a sharp 
decline in the number of offerings from the earth. In panic they command 
Ereshkigal to release Ishtar. It is done, but Ishtar refuses to return to 
the surface of the earth unless she is allowed to take Tammuz with her. 
She wins her point, passes triumphantly through the seven gates, receives 
her loin-cloth, her spangles, her girdle, her pectorals, her necklace, her 
ear-rings and her crown. As she appears plants grow and bloom again, 
the land swells with food, and every animal resumes the business of re- 
producing his kind." Love, stronger than death, is restored to its rightful 
place as master of gods and men. To the modern scholar it is only an ad- 
mirable legend, symbolizing delightfully the yearly death and rebirth of 
the soil, and that omnipotence of Venus which Lucretius was to cele- 
brate in his own strong verse; to the Babylonians it was sacred history, 
faithfully believed and annually commemorated in a day of mourning and 
wailing for the dead Tammuz, followed by riotous rejoicing over his 


Nevertheless the Babylonian derived no satisfaction from the idea of per- 
sonal immortality. His religion was terrestrially practical; when he prayed 
he asked not for celestial rewards but for earthly goods;* he could not trust 
his gods beyond the grave. It is true that one text speaks of Marduk as he 
"who gives back life to the dead," 8 * and the story of the flood represents its 
two survivors as living forever. But for the most part the Babylonian con- 
ception of another life was like that of the Greeks: dead mensaints and vil- 
lains, geniuses and idiots, alike went to a dark and shadowy realm within 
the bowels of the earth, and none of them saw the light again. There was a 
heaven, but only for the gods; the Aralu to which all men descended was 
a place frequently of punishment, never of joy; there the dead lay bound 
hand and foot forever, shivering with cold, and subject to hunger and 
thirst unless their children placed food periodically in their graves. 85 Those 
who had been especially wicked on earth were subjected to horrible tortures; 
leprosy consumed them, or some other of the diseases which Nergal and Allat, 
male and female lords of Aralu, had arranged for their rectification. 

Most bodies were buried in vaults; a few were cremated, and their remains 
were preserved in urns. 80 The dead body was not embalmed, but professional 
mourners washed and perfumed it, clad it presentably, painted its checks, 
darkened its eyelids, put rings upon its fingers, and provided it with a change 
of linen. If the corpse was that of a woman it was equipped with scent- 
bottles, combs, cosmetic pencils, and eye-paint to preserve its fragrance and 
complexion in the nether world.* 7 If not properly buried the dead would 
torment the living; if not buried at all, the soul would prowl about sewers 
and gutters for food, and might afflict an entire city with pestilence. 88 It was 
a medley of ideas not as consistent as Euclid, but sufficing to prod the simple 
Babylonian to keep his gods and priests well fed. 

The usual offering was food and drink, for these had the advantage that if 
they were not entirely consumed by the gods the surplus need not go to 
waste. A frequent sacrifice on Babylonian altars was the lamb; and an old 
Babylonian incantation strangely anticipates the symbolism of Judaism and 
Christianity: "The lamb as a substitute for a man, the lamb he gives for his 
life." 89 Sacrifice was a complex ritual, requiring the expert services of a priest; 
every act and word of the ceremony was settled by sacred tradition, and 
any amateur deviation from these forms might mean that the gods would eat 
without listening. In general, to the Babylonian, religion meant correct 
ritual rather than the good life. To do one's duty to the gods one had to 
offer proper sacrifice to the temples, and recite the appropriate prayers; 90 for 
the rest he might cut out the eyes of his fallen enemy, cut off the hands and 
feet of captives, and roast their remainders alive in a furnace, 01 without much 
offense to heaven. To participate in or reverently to attend long and solemn 


processions like those in which the priests carried from sanctuary to sanc- 
tuary the image of Marduk, and performed the sacred drama of his death 
and resurrection; to anoint the idols with sweet-scented oils,* to burn 
incense before them, clothe them with rich vestments, or adorn them with 
jewelry; to offer up the virginity of their daughters in the great festival of 
Ishtar; to put food and drink before the gods, and to be generous to the 
priests these were the essential works of the devout Babylonian soul. 98 

Perhaps we misjudge him, as doubtless the future will misjudge us from 
the fragments that accident will rescue from our decay. Some of the 
finest literary relics of the Babylonians are prayers that breathe a profound 
and sincere piety. Hear the proud Nebuchadrezzar humbly addressing 

Without thee, Lord, what could there be 

For the king thou lovest, and dost call his name? 

Thou shalt bless his title as thou wilt, 

And unto him vouchsafe a path direct. 

I, the prince obeying thee, 

Am what thy hands have made. 

'Tis thou who art my creator, 

Entrusting me with the rule of hosts of men. 

According to thy mercy, Lord, . . . 

Turn into loving-kindness thy dread power, 

And make to spring up in my heart 

A reverence for thy divinity. 

Give as thou thinkest best. 04 

The surviving literature abounds in hymns full of that passionate self 
abasement with which the Semite tries to control and conceal his pride. 
Many of them take the character of "penitential psalms," and prepare 
us for the magnificent feeling and imagery of "David"; who knows bu* 
they served as models for that many-headed Muse? 

I, thy servant, full of sighs cry unto thee. 

Thou acceptest the fervent prayer of him who is burdened with sin. 

Thou lookest upon a man, and that man lives. . . . 

Look with true favor upon me, and accept my supplication. . . . 

Therefore Tammuz was called "The Anointed." 91 


And then, as if uncertain of the sex of the god- 
How long, my god, 

How long, my goddess, until thy face be turned to me? 
How long, known and unknown god, until the anger of thy heart 

shall be appeased? 
How long, known and unknown goddess, until thy unfriendly heart 

be appeased? 

Mankind is perverted, and has no judgment; 
Of all men who are alive, who knows anything? 
They do not know whether they do good or evil. 
O Lord, do not cast aside thy servant; 
He is cast into the mire; take his hand! 
The sin which I have sinned, turn to mercy! 
The iniquity which I have committed, let the wind carry away! 
My many transgressions tear off like a garment! 
My god, my sins are seven times seven; forgive my sins! 
My goddess, my sins are seven times seven; forgive my sins! . . . 
Forgive my sins, and I will humble myself before thee. 
May thy heart, as the heart of a mother who hath borne children, 

be glad; 
As a mother who hath borne children, as a father who hath begotten, 

may it be glad!" 

Such psalms and hymns were sung sometimes by the priests, sometimes 
by the congregation, sometimes by both in strophe and antistrophe. Per- 
haps the strangest circumstance about them is that like all the religious 
literature of Babylon they were written in the ancient Sumerian lan- 
guage, which served the Babylonian and Assyrian churches precisely as 
Latin serves the Roman Catholic Church today. And just as a Catholic 
hymnal may juxtapose the Latin text to a vernacular translation, so some 
of the hymns that have come down to us from Mesopotamia have a 
Babylonian or Assyrian translation written between the lines of the 
"classic" Sumerian original, in the fashion of a contemporary schoolboy's 
"interlinear." And as the form of these hymns and rituals led to the 
Psalms of the Jews and the liturgy of the Roman Church, so their content 
presaged the pessimistic and sin-struck plaints of the Jews, the early 
Christians, and the modern Puritans. The sense of sin, though it did not 
interfere victoriously in Babylonian life, filled the Babylonian chants, 
and rang a note that survives in all Semitic liturgies and their anti-Semitic 


derivatives. "Lord," cries one hymn, "my sins are many, great are my 
misdeeds! ... I sink under affliction, I can no longer raise my head; I turn 
to my merciful God to call upon him, and I groan! . . . Lord, reject not 
thy servant!"" 

These groanings were rendered more sincere by the Babylonian concep- 
tion of sin. Sin was no mere theoretical state of the soul; like sickness it was 
the possession of the body by a demon that might destroy it. Prayer was in 
the nature of an incantation against a demon that had come down upon the 
individual out of the ocean of magic forces in which the ancient Orient 
lived and moved. Everywhere, in the Babylonian view, these hostile demons 
lurked: they hid in strange crannies, slipped through doors or even through 
bolts and sockets, and pounced upon their victims in the form of illness or 
madness whenever some sin had withdrawn for a moment the beneficent 
guardianship of the gods. Giants, dwarfs, cripples, above all, women, had 
sometimes the power, even with a glance of the "evil eye," to infuse such a 
destructive spirit into the bodies of those toward whom they were ill-dis- 
posed. Partial protection against these demons was provided by the use of 
magic amulets, talismans and kindred charms; images of the gods, carried on 
the body, would usually suffice to frighten the devils away. Little stones 
strung on a thread or a chain and hung about the neck were especially 
effective, but care had to be taken that the stones were such as tradition asso- 
ciated with good luck, and the thread had to be of black, white or red 
according to the purpose in view. Thread spun from virgin kids was par- 
ticularly powerful." 7 But in addition to such means it was wise also to exor- 
cise the demon by fervent incantation and magic ritual for example, by 
sprinkling the body with water taken from the sacred streams the Tigris or 
the Euphrates. Or an image of the demon could be made, placed on a boat, 
and sent over the water with a proper formula; if the boat could be made 
to capsize, so much the better. The demon might be persuaded, by the appro- 
priate incantation, to leave its human victim and enter an animal a bird, a 
pig, most frequently a lamb.* 8 

Magic formulas for the elimination of demons, the avoidance of evil and 
the prevision of the future constitute the largest category in the Babylonian 
writings found in the library of Ashurbanipal. Some of the tablets are 
manuals of astrology; others arc lists of omens celestial and terrestrial, with 
expert advice for reading them; others are treatises on the interpretation of 
dreams, rivaling in their ingenious incredibility the most advanced products 
of modern psychology; still others offer instruction in divining the future by 
examining the entrails of animals, or by observing the form and position of a 


drop of oil let fall into a jar of water. 8 * Hepatoscopy observation of the 
liver of animals was a favorite method of divination among the Babylonian 
priests, and passed from them into the classical world; for the liver was 
believed to be the seat of the mind in both animals and men. No king would 
undertake a campaign or advance to a battle, no Babylonian would risk a 
crucial decision or begin an enterprise of great moment, without employing 
a priest or a soothsayer to read the omens for him in one or another of these 
recondite ways. 

Never was a civilization richer in superstitions. Every turn of chance 
from the anomalies of birth to the varieties of death received a popular, 
sometimes an official and sacerdotal, interpretation in magical or super- 
natural terms. Every movement of the rivers, every aspect of the stars, 
every dream, every unusual performance of man or beast, revealed the 
future to the properly instructed Babylonian. The fate of a king could be 
forecast by observing the movements of a dog, 100 just as we foretell the 
length of the winter by spying upon the groundhog. The superstitions 
of Babylonia seem ridiculous to us, because they differ superficially from 
our own. There is hardly an absurdity of the past that cannot be found 
flourishing somewhere in the present. Underneath all civilization, ancient 
or modern, moved and still moves a sea of magic, superstition and sorcery. 
Perhaps they will remain when the works of our reason have passed away. 


Religion divorced from morals Sacred prostitution Free love- 
Marriage Adultery Divorce The position of 'woman 
The relaxation of morals 

This religion, with all its failings, probably helped to prod the common 
Babylonian into some measure of decency and civic docility, else we 
should be hard put to explain the generosity of the kings to the priests. 
Apparently, however, it had no influence upon the morals of the upper 
classes in the later centuries, for (in the eyes and words of her prejudiced 
enemies) the "whore of Babylon" was a "sink of iniquity," and a scandal- 
ous example of luxurious laxity to all the ancient world. Even Alexander, 
who was not above dying of drinking, was shocked by the morals of 
Babylon. 101 

The most striking feature of Babylonian life, to an alien observer, was 
the custom known to us chiefly from a famous page in Herodotus: 


Every native woman is obliged, once in her life, to sit in the tem- 
ple of Venus, and have intercourse with some stranger. And many 
disdaining to mix with the rest, being proud on account of their 
wealth, come in covered carriages, and take up their station at the 
temple with a numerous train of servants attending them. But the 
far greater part do thus: many sit down in the temple of Venus, 
wearing a crown of cord round their heads; some are continually 
coming in, and others are going out. Passages marked out in a 
straight line lead in every direction through the women, along which 
strangers pass and make their choice. When a woman has once 
seated herself she must not return home till some stranger has thrown 
a piece of silver into her lap, and lain with her outside the temple. 
He who throws the silver must say thus: "I beseech the goddess 
Mylitta to favor thee"; for the Assyrians call Venus Mylitta.* The 
silver may be ever so small, for she will not reject it, inasmuch as it 
is not lawful for her to do so, for such silver is accounted sacred. 
The woman follows the first man that throws, and refuses no one. 
But when she has had intercourse and has absolved herself from her 
obligation to the goddess, she returns home; and after that time, 
however great a sum you may give her you will not gain possession 
of her. Those that are endowed with beauty and symmetry of shape 
are soon set free; but the deformed are detained a long time, from 
inability to satisfy the law, for some wait for a space of three or 
four years. 10 * 

What was the origin of this strange rite? Was it a relic of ancient 
sexual communism, a concession, by the future bridegroom, of the jus 
prim<e noctis, or right of the first night, to the community as represented 
by any casual and anonymous citizen? 108 Was it due to the bridegroom's 
fear of harm from the violation of the tabu against shedding blood? 104 Was 
it a physical preparation for marriage, such as is still practised among some 
Australian tribes? 105 Or was it simply a sacrifice to the goddess an offer- 
ing of first fruits? 10 * We do not know. 

Such women, of course, were not prostitutes. But various classes of 
prostitutes lived within the temple precincts, plied their trade there, and 
amassed, some of them, great fortunes. Such temple prostitutes were 
common in western Asia: we find them in Israel, 107 Phrygia, Phoenicia, 
Syria, etc.; in Lydia and Cyprus the girls earned their marriage dowries 

* "Assyrians" meant for the Greeks both Assyrians and Babylonians. "Mylitta" was one 
of the forms of Ishtar 


in this way. 10 " "Sacred prostitution" continued in Babylonia until abol- 
ished by Constantine (ca. 325 A.D.) Alongside it, in the wine-shops 
kept by women, secular prostitution flourished. 110 

In general the Babylonians were allowed considerable premarital ex- 
perience. It was considered permissible for men and women to form un- 
licensed unions, "trial marriages," terminable at the will of either party; 
but the woman in such cases was obliged to wear an olive in stone or 
terra cottazs a sign that she was a concubine. m Some tablets indicate 
that the Babylonians wrote poems, and sang songs, of love; but all that 
remains of these is an occasional first line, like "My love is a light," or 
"My heart is full of merriment and song." 1 " One letter, dating from 2100 
B.C., is in the tone of Napoleon's early messages to Josephine: "To 
Bibiya: . . . May Shamash and Marduk give thee health forever. ... I 
have sent (to ask) after thy health; let me know how thou art. I have 
arrived in Babylon, and see thee not; I am very sad." 118 

Legal marriage was arranged by the parents, and was sanctioned by 
an exchange of gifts obviously descended from marriage by purchase. 
The suitor presented to the father of the bride a substantial present, but 
the father was expected to give her a dowry greater in value than the 
gift, 114 so that it was difficult to say who was purchasd, the woman or the 
man. Sometimes, however, the arrangement was unabashed purchase; 
Shamashnazir, for example, received ten shekels ($50) as the price of his 
daughter. 11 * If we are to believe the Father of History, 

those who had marriageable daughters used to bring them once a 
year to a place where a great number of men gathered round them. 
A public crier made them stand up and sold them all, one after an- 
other. He began with the most beautiful, and having got a large sum 
for her he put up the second fairest. But he only sold them on con- 
dition that the buyers married them. . . . This very wise custom no 
longer exists."* 

Despite these strange practices, Babylonian marriage seems to have 
been as monogamous and faithful as marriage in Christendom is today. 
Premarital freedom was followed by the rigid enforcement of marital 
fidelity. The adulterous wife and her paramour, according to the Code, 
were drowned, unless the husband, in his mercy, preferred to let his wife 
off by turning her almost naked into the streets. 117 Hammurabi out- 
Caesared Csesar: "If the finger have been pointed at the wife of a man be- 


cause of another man, and she have not been taken in lying with another 
man, for her husband's sake she shall throw herself into the river" 110 per- 
haps the law was intended as a discouragement to gossip. The man could 
divorce his wife simply by restoring her dowry to her and saying, "Thou 
art not my wife"; but if she said to him, "Thou art not my husband," she 
was to be drowned."* Childlessness, adultery, incompatibility, or careless 
management of the household might satisfy the law as ground for grant- 
ing the man a divorce;" indeed "if she have not been a careful mistress, 
have gadded about, have neglected her house, and have belittled her chil- 
dren, they shall throw that woman into the water." m As against this in- 
credible severity of the Code, we find that in practice the woman, though 
she might not divorce her husband, was free to leave him, if she could 
show cruelty on his part and fidelity on her own; in such cases she could 
return to her parents, and take her marriage portion with her, along with 
what other property she might have acquired. 1 " (The women of Eng- 
land did not enjoy these rights till the end of the nineteenth century.) 
If a woman's husband was kept from her, through business or war, for 
any length of time, and had left no means for her maintenance, she might 
cohabit with another man without legal prejudice to her reunion with 
her husband on the latter's return. 1 ** 

In general the position of woman in Babylonia was lower than in 
Egypt or Rome, and yet not worse than in classic Greece or medieval 
Europe. To carry out her many functions begetting and rearing chil- 
dren, fetching water from the river or the public well, grinding corn, 
cooking, spinning, weaving, cleaning she had to be free to go about in 
public very much like the man. 114 She could own property, enjoy its 
income, sell and buy, inherit and bequeath. 1 * 6 Some women kept shops, 
and carried on commerce; some even became scribes, indicating that girls 
as well as boys might receive an education. 1 * 8 But the Semitic practice of 
giving almost limitless power to the oldest male of the family won out 
against any matriarchal tendencies that may have existed in prehistoric 
Mesopotamia. Among the upper classes by a custom that led to the 
purdah of Islam and India the women were confined to certain quarters 
of the house; and when they went out they were chaperoned by eunuchs 
and pages. 1 * 7 Among the lower classes they were maternity machines, and 
if they had no dowry they were little more than slaves. 1 * The worship 
of Ishtar suggests a certain reverence for woman and motherhood, like 
the worship of Mary in the Middle Ages; but we get no glimpse of chiv- 


airy in Herodotus' report that the Babylonians, when besieged, "had 
strangled their wives, to prevent the consumption of their provisions." 1 * 

With some excuse, then, the Egyptians looked down upon the Baby- 
lonians as not quite civilized. We miss here the refinement of character 
and feeling indicated by Egyptian literature and art. When refinement 
came to Babylon it was in the guise of an effeminate degeneracy: young 
men dyed and curled their hair, perfumed their flesh, rouged their cheeks, 
and adorned themselves with necklaces, bangles, ear-rings and pendants. 
After the Persian Conquest the death of self-respect brought an end of 
self-restraint; the manners of the courtesan crept into every class; women 
of good family came to consider it mere courtesy to reveal their charms 
indiscriminately for the greatest happiness of the greatest number; 1 * and 
"every man of the people in his poverty," if we may credit Herodotus, 
"prostituted his daughters for money." 181 "There is nothing more extraor- 
dinary than the manners of this city," wrote Quintus Curtius (42 A.D.), 
"and nowhere are things better arranged with a view to voluptuous pleas- 
ures." 188 Morals grew lax when the temples grew rich; and the citizens of 
Babylon, wedded to delight, bore with equanimity the subjection of their 
city by the Kassites, the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Greeks. 


CuneiformIts decipherment Language Literature The epic 

of Gilgamesh 

Did this life of venery, piety and trade receive any ennobling enshrine- 
ment in literary or artistic form? It is possible; we cannot judge a civiliza- 
tion from such fragments as the ocean of time has thrown up from the 
wreckage of Babylon. These fragments are chiefly liturgical, magical 
and commercial. Whether through accident or through cultural poverty, 
Babylonia, like Assyria and Persia, has left us a very middling heritage of 
literature as compared with Egypt and Palestine; its gifts were in com- 
merce and law. 

Nevertheless, scribes were as numerous in cosmopolitan Babylon as in 
Memphis or Thebes. The art of writing was still young enough to give 
its master a high rank in society; it was the open sesame to govern- 
mental and sacerdotal office; its possessor never failed to mention the 
distinction in narrating his deeds, and usually he engraved a notice of it 
on his cylinder seal, 1 * precisely as Christian scholars and gentlemen once 


listed their academic degrees on their cards. The Babylonians wrote in 
cuneiform upon tablets of damp clay, with a stylus or pencil cut at the 
end into a triangular prism or wedge; when the tablets were filled they 
dried and baked them into strange but durable manuscripts of brick. If 
the thing written was a letter it was dusted with powder and then 
wrapped in a clay envelope stamped with the sender's cylinder seal. 
Tablets in jars classified and arranged on shelves filled numerous libraries 
in the temples and palaces of Babylonia. These Babylonian libraries are 
lost; but one of the greatest of them, that of Borsippa, was copied and 
preserved in the library of Ashurbanipal, whose 30,000 tablets are the 
main source of our knowledge of Babylonian life. 

The decipherment of Babylonian baffled students for centuries; their final 
success is an honorable chapter in the history of scholarship. In 1802 Georg 
Grotefend, professor of Greek at the University of Gottingen, told the 
Gottingen Academy how for years he had puzzled over certain cuneiform 
inscriptions from ancient Persia; how at last he had identified eight of the 
forty-two characters used, and had made out the names of three kings in 
the inscriptions. There, for the most part, the matter rested until 1835, when 
Henry Rawlinson, a British diplomatic officer stationed in Persia, quite un- 
aware of Grotcfend's work, likewise worked out the names of Hystaspes, 
Darius and Xerxes in an inscription couched in Old Persian, a cuneiform de- 
rivative of Babylonian script; and through these names he finally deciphered 
the entire document. This, however, was not Babylonian; Rawlinson had still 
to find, like Champollion, a Rosetta Stone in this case some inscription bear- 
ing the same text in old Persian and Babylonian. He found it three hundred 
feet high on an almost inaccessible rock at Behistun, in the mountains of 
Media, where Darius I had caused his carvers to engrave a record of his wars 
and victories in three languages old Persian, Assyrian, and Babylonian. Day 
after day Rawlinson risked himself on these rocks, often suspending himself 
by a rope, copying every character carefully, even making plastic impressions 
of all the engraved surfaces. After twelve years of work he succeeded in 
translating both the Babylonian and the Assyrian texts (1847). To test these 
and similar findings, the Royal Asiatic Society sent an unpublished cuneiform 
document to four Assyriologists, and asked them working without contact or 
communication with one another to make independent translations. The four 
reports were found to be in almost complete agreement. Through these un- 
heralded campaigns of scholarship the perspective of history was enriched 
with a new civilization. 13 * 

The Babylonian language was a Semitic development of the old tongues 
of Sumeria and Akkad. It was written in characters originally Sumerian, but 


the vocabulary diverged in time (like French from Latin) into a language so 
different from Sumerian that the Babylonians had to compose dictionaries and 
grammars to transmit the old "classic" and sacerdotal tongue of Sumeria to 
young scholars and priests. Almost a fourth of the tablets found in the royal 
library at Nineveh is devoted to dictionaries and grammars of the Sumerian, 
Babylonian and Assyrian languages. According to tradition, such dictionaries 
had been made as far back as Sargon of Akkad so old is scholarship. In 
Babylonian, as in Sumerian, the characters represented not letters but sylla- 
bles; Babylon never achieved an alphabet of its own, but remained content 
with a "syllabary" of some three hundred signs. The memorizing of these 
syllabic symbols formed, with mathematics and religious instruction, the cur- 
riculum of the temple schools in which the priests imparted to the young as 
much as it was expedient for them to know. One excavation unearthed an 
ancient classroom in which the clay tablets of boys and girls who had 
copied virtuous maxims upon them some two thousand years before Christ 
still lay on the floor, as if some almost welcome disaster had suddenly inter- 
rupted the lesson. 1 * 

The Babylonians, like the Phoenicians, looked upon letters as a device for 
facilitating business; they did not spend much of their clay upon literature. 
We find animal fables in verse one generation of an endless dynasty; hymns 
in strict meter, sharply divided lines and elaborate stanzas; 136 very little sur- 
viving secular verse; religious rituals presaging, but never becoming, drama; 
and tons of historiography. Official chroniclers recorded the piety and con- 
quests of the kings, the vicissitudes of each temple, and the important events 
in the career of each city. Berosus, the most famous of Babylonian historians 
(ca. 280 B.C.) narrated with confidence full details concerning the creation 
of the world and the early history of man: the first king of Babylonia had 
been chosen by a god, and had reigned 36,000 years; from the beginning of 
the world to the great Flood, said Berosus, with praiseworthy exactitude 
and comparative moderation, there had elapsed 691,200 years." 7 

Twelve broken tablets found in Ashurbanipal's library, and now in the 
British Museum, form the most fascinating relic of Mesopotamian litera- 
turethe Epic of Gilgamesh. Like the Iliad it is an accretion of loosely 
connected stories, some of which go back to Sumeria 3000 B.C.; part of it 
is the Babylonian account of the Flood. Gilgamesh was a legendary ruler 
of Uruk or Erech, a descendant of the Shamash-napishtim who had sur- 
vived the Deluge, and had never died. Gilgamesh enters upon the scene 
as a sort of Adonis-Samson tall, massive, heroically powerful and troub- 
lesomely handsome. 


Two thirds of him is god, 

One third of him is man, 

There's none can match the form of his body. . . . 

All things he saw, even to the ends of the earth, 

He underwent all, learned to know all; 

He peered through all secrets, 

Through wisdom's mantle that veileth all. 

What was hidden he saw, 

What was covered he undid; 

Of times before the stormflood he brought report. 

He went on a long far way, 

Giving himself toil and distress; 

Wrote then on a stone tablet the whole of his labor. 1 * 

Fathers complain to Ishtar that he leads their sons out to exhausting 
toil "building the walls through the day, through the night"; and hus- 
bands complain that "he leaves not a wife to her master, not a single virgin 
to her mother." Ishtar begs Gilgamesh's godmother, Aruru, to create 
another son equal to Gilgamesh and able to keep him busy in conflict, so 
that the husbands of Uruk may have peace. Aruru kneads a bit of clay, 
spits upon it, and moulds from it the satyr Engidu, a man with the 
strength of a boar, the mane of a lion, and the speed of a bird. Engidu 
does not care for the society of men, but turns and lives with the animals; 
"he browses with the gazelles, he sports with the creatures of the water, 
he quenches his thirst with the beasts of the field." A hunter tries to 
capture him with nets and traps, but fails; and going to Gilgamesh, the 
hunter begs for the loan of a priestess who may snare Engidu with love. 
"Go, my hunter," says Gilgamesh, "take a priestess; when the beasts 
come to the watering-place let her display her beauty; he will see her, and 
his beasts that troop around him will be scattered." 

The hunter and the priestess go forth, and find Engidu. 

"There he is, woman! 

Loosen thy buckle, 

Unveil thy delight, 

That he may take his fill of thee! 

Hang not back, take up his lust! 

When he sees thee, he will draw near. 

Open thy robe that he rest upon thee! 


Arouse in him rapture, the work of woman. 

Then will he become a stranger to his wild beasts, 

Who on his own steppes grew up with him. 

His bosom will press against thee." 

Then the priestess loosened her buckle, 

Unveiled her delight, 

For him to take his fill of her. 

She hung not back, she took up his lust, 

She opened her robe that he rest upon her. 

She aroused in him rapture, the work of woman. 

His bosom pressed against her. 

Engidu forgot where he was born. 1 " 

For six days but seven nights Engidu remains with the sacred woman. 
When he tires of pleasure he awakes to find his friends the animals 
gone, whereupon he swoons with sorrow. But the priestess chides him: 
"Thou who art superb as a god, why dost thou live among the beasts of 
the field? Come, I will conduct thee to Uruk, where is Gilgamesh, whose 
might is supreme." Ensnared by the vanity of praise and the conceit of 
his strength, Engidu follows the priestess to Uruk, saying, "Lead me to 
the place where is Gilgamesh. I will fight with him and manifest to him 
my power"; whereat the gods and husbands are well pleased. But Gilga- 
mesh overcomes him, first with strength, then with kindness; they become 
devoted friends; they march forth together to protect Uruk from Elam; 
they return glorious with exploits and victory. Gilgamesh "put aside 
his war-harness, he put on his white garments, he adorned himself with 
the royal insignia, and bound on the diadem." Thereupon Ishtar the in- 
satiate falls in love with him, raises her great eyes to him, and says: 

"Come, Gilgamesh, be my husband, thou! Thy love, give it to me 
as a gift; thou shalt be my spouse, and I shall be thy wife. I shall 
place thee in a chariot of lapis and gold, with golden wheels and 
mountings of onyx; thou shalt be drawn in it by great lions, and 
thou shalt enter our house with the odorous incense of cedar-wood. 
... All the country by the sea shall embrace thy feet, kings shall 
bow down before thee, the gifts of the mountains and the plains 
they will bring before thee as tribute." 

Gilgamesh rejects her, and reminds her of the hard fate she has inflicted 
upon her varied lovers, including Tammuz, a hawk, a stallion, a gardener 


and a lion. "Thou lovest me now/' he tells her; "afterwards thou wilt 
strike me as thou didst these." The angry Ishtar asks of the great god 
Aim that he create a wild urus to kill GUgamesh. Ami refuses, and re- 
bukes her: "Canst thou not remain quiet now that Gilgamesh has enu- 
merated to thee thy unfaithfulness and ignominies?" She threatens that 
unless he grants her request she will suspend throughout the universe all 
the impulses of desire and love, and so destroy every living thing. Anu 
yields, and creates the ferocious urus; but Gilgamesh, helped by Engidu, 
overcomes the beast; and when Ishtar curses the hero, Engidu throws a 
limb of the urus into her face. Gilgamesh rejoices and is proud, but 
Ishtar strikes him down in the midst of his glory by afflicting Engidu with 
a mortal illness. 

Mourning over the corpse of his friend, whom he has loved more than 
any woman, Gilgamesh wonders over the mystery of death. Is there no 
escape from that dull fatality? One man eluded it Shamash-napish- 
tim; he would know the secret of deathlessness. Gilgamesh resolves to 
seek Shamash-napishtim, even if he must cross the world to find him. The 
way leads through a mountain guarded by a pair of giants whose heads 
touch the sky and whose breasts reach down to Hades. But they let 
him pass, and he picks his way for twelve miles through a dark tunnel. 
He emerges upon the shore of a great ocean, and sees, far over the waters, 
the throne of Sabitu, virgin-goddess of the seas. He calls out to her to 
help him cross the water; "if it cannot be done, I will lay me down on the 
land and die." Sabitu takes pity upon him, and allows him to cross 
through forty days of tempest to the Happy Island where lives Shamash- 
napishtim, possessor of immortal life. Gilgamesh begs of him the secret 
of deathlessness. Shamash-napishtim answers by telling at length the story 
of the Flood, and how the gods, relenting of their mad destructiveness, 
had made him and his wife immortal because they had preserved the 
human species. He offers Gilgamesh a plant whose fruit will confer re- 
newed youth upon him who eats it; and Gilgamesh, happy, starts back 
on his long journey home. But on the way he stops to bathe, and while 
he bathes a serpent crawls by and steals the plant.* 

Desolate, Gilgamesh reaches Uruk. He prays in temple after temple 
that Engidu may be allowed to return to life, if only to speak to him for 
a moment. Engidu appears, and Gilgamesh inquires of him the state of 

* The snake was worshiped by many early peoples as a symbol of immortality, because 
of its apparent power to escape death by moulting its skin. 


the dead. Engidu answers, "I cannot tell it thee; if I were to open the 
earth before thee, if I were to tell thee that which I have seen, terror 
would overthrow thee, thou wouldst faint away." Gilgamesh, symbol of 
that brave stupidity, philosophy, persists in his quest for truth: "Terror 
will overthrow me, I shall faint away, but tell it to me." Engidu de- 
scribes the miseries of Hades, and on this gloomy note the fragmentary 
epic ends." 


The lesser arts MusicPainting Sculpture Bas-relief 

The story of Gilgamesh is almost the only example by which we may 
judge the literary art of Babylon. That a keen esthetic sense, if not a 
profound creative spirit, survived to some degree the Babylonian absorp- 
tion in commercial life, epicurean recreation and compensatory piety, 
may be seen in the chance relics of the minor arts. Patiently glazed tiles, 
glittering stones, finely wrought bronze, iron, silver and gold, delicate 
embroideries, soft rugs and richly dyed robes, luxurious tapestries, pedes- 
taled tables, beds and chairs 141 these lent grace, if not dignity or final 
worth, to Babylonian civilization. Jewelry abounded in quantity, but 
missed the subtle artistry of Egypt; it went in for a display of yellow 
metal, and thought it artistic to make entire statues of gold. 1 " There were 
many musical instruments flutes, psalteries, harps, bagpipes, lyres, drums, 
horns, reed-pipes, trumpets, cymbals and tambourines. Orchestras played 
and singers sang, individually and chorally, in temples and palaces, and 
at the feasts of the well-to-do. 1 " 

Painting was purely subsidiary; it decorated walls and statuary, but made 
no attempt to become an independent art. 144 We do not find among Baby- 
lonian ruins the distemper paintings that glorified the Egyptian tombs, or such 
frescoes as adorned the palaces of Crete. Babylonian sculpture remained 
similarly undeveloped, and was apparently stiffened into an early death by 
conventions derived from Sumeria and enforced by the priests: all the faces 
portrayed are one face, all the kings have the same thick and muscular frame, 
all the captives are cast in one mould. Very little Babylonian statuary sur- 
vives, and that without excuse. The bas-reliefs are better, but they too are 
stereotyped and crude; a great gulf separates them from the mobile vigor of 
the reliefs that the Egyptians had carved a thousand years before; they 


reach sublimity only when they depict animals possessed of the silent dignity 
of nature, or enraged by the cruelty of men. ltt 

Babylonian architecture is safe from judgment now, for hardly any of its 
remains rise to more than a few feet above the sands; and there are no carved 
or painted representations among the relics to show us clearly the form and 
structure of palaces and temples. Houses were built of dried mud, or, among 
the rich, of brick; they seldom knew windows, and their doors opened not 
upon the narrow street but upon an interior court shaded from the sun. 
Tradition describes the better dwellings as rising to three or four stories in 
height. 148 The temple was raised upon foundations level with the roofs of the 
houses whose life it was to dominate; usually it was an enormous square of 
tiled masonry, built, like the houses, around a court; in this court most of 
the religious ceremonies were performed. Near the temple, in most cases, 
rose a ziggurat (literally u a high place") a tower of superimposed and dimin- 
ishing cubical stories surrounded by external stairs. Its uses were partly reli- 
gious, as a lofty shrine for the god, partly astronomic, as an observatory 
from which the priests could watch the all-revealing stars. The great ziggurat 
at Borsippa was called "The Stages of the Seven Spheres"; each story was 
dedicated to one of the seven planets known to Babylonia, and bore a sym- 
bolic color. The lowest was black, as the color of Saturn; the next above it 
was white, as the color of Venus; the next was purple, for Jupiter; the fourth 
blue, for Mercury; the fifth scarlet, for Mars; the sixth silver, for the moon; 
the seventh gold, for the sun. These spheres and stars, beginning at the top, 
designated the days of the week. 147 

There was not much art in this architecture, so far as we can vision 
it now; it was a mass of straight lines seeking the glory of size. Here and 
there among the ruins are vaults and arches forms derived from Sumeria, 
negligently used, and unconscious of their destiny. Decoration, interior and 
exterior, was almost confined to enameling some of the brick surfaces with 
bright glazes of yellow, blue, white and red, with occasional tiled figures of 
animals or plants. The use of vitrified glaze, not merely to beautify, but to 
protect the masonry from sun and rain, was at least as old as Naram-sin, and 
was to continue in Mesopotamia down to Moslem days. In this way ceram- 
ics, though seldom producing rememberable pottery, became the most 
characteristic art of the ancient Near East. Despite such aid, Babylonian 
architecture remained a heavy and prosaic thing, condemned to mediocrity 
by the material it used. The temples rose rapidly out of the earth which 
slave labor turned so readily into brick and cementing pitch; they did not 
require centuries for their erection, like the monumental structures of Egypt 
or medieval Europe. But they decayed almost as quickly as they rose; fifty 
years of neglect reduced them to the dust from which they had been made. 148 


The very cheapness of brick corrupted Babylonian design; with such mate- 
rials it was easy to achieve size, difficult to compass beauty. Brick does not 
lend itself to sublimity, and sublimity is the soul of architecture. 


Mathematics Astronomy The calendar Geography Medicine 

Being merchants, the Babylonians were more likely to achieve successes 
in science than in art. Commerce created mathematics, and united with 
religion to beget astronomy. In their varied functions as judges, adminis- 
trators, agricultural and industrial magnates, and soothsayers skilled in 
examining entrails and stars, the priests of Mesopotamia unconsciously 
laid the foundations of those sciences which, in the profane hands of the 
Greeks, were for a time to depose religion from its leadership of the 

Babylonian mathematics rested on a division of the circle into 360 
degrees, and of the year into 360 days; on this basis it developed a 
sexagesimal system of calculation by sixties, which became the parent of 
later duodecimal systems of reckoning by twelves. The numeration 
used only three figures: a sign for i, repeated up to 9; a sign for 10, re- 
peated up to 50; and a sign for 100. Computation was made easier by 
tables which showed not only multiplication and division, but the halves, 
quarters, thirds, squares and cubes of the basic numbers. Geometry ad- 
vanced to the measurement of complex and irregular areas. The Baby- 
lonian figure for * (the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a 
circle) was 33 very crude approximation for a nation of astronomers. 

Astronomy was the special science of the Babylonians, for which they 
were famous throughout the ancient world. Here again magic was the 
mother of science: the Babylonians studied the stars not so much to chart 
the courses of caravans and ships, as to divine the future fates of men; 
they were astrologers first and astronomers afterward. Every planet was 
a god, interested and vital in the affairs of men: Jupiter was Marduk, 
Mercury was Nabu, Mars was Nergal, the sun was Shamash, the moon 
was Sin, Saturn was Ninib, Venus was Ishtar. Every movement of every 
star determined, or forecast, some terrestrial event: if, for example, the 
moon was low, a distant nation would submit to the king; if the moon was 
in crescent the king would overcome the enemy. Such efforts to wring 
the future out of the stars became a passion with the Babylonians; priests 


skilled in astrology reaped rich rewards from both people and king. Some 
of them were sincere students, poring zealously over astrologic tomes 
which, according to their traditions, had been composed in the days of 
Sargon of Akkad; they complained of the quacks who, without such 
study, went about reading horoscopes for a fee, or predicting the weather 
a year ahead, in the fashion of our modern almanacs. 1 ** 

Astronomy developed slowly out of this astrologic observation and 
charting of the stars. As far back as 2000 B.C. the Babylonians had made 
accurate records of the heliacal rising and setting of the planet Venus; 
they had fixed the position of various stars, and were slowly mapping the 
sky." The Kassite conquest interrupted this development for a thou- 
sand years. Then, under Nebuchadrezzar, astronomic progress was re- 
sumed; the priest-scientists plotted the orbits of sun and moon, noted their 
conjunctions and eclipses, calculated the courses of the planets, and made 
the first clear distinction between a planet and a star;*" 1 they determined 
the dates of winter and summer solstices, of vernal and autumnal 
equinoxes, and, following the lead of the Sumerians, divided the ecliptic 
(i.e., the path of the earth around the sun) into the twelve signs of the 
Zodiac. Having divided the circle into 360 degrees, they divided the 
degree into sixty minutes, and the minute into sixty seconds. 108 They 
measured time by a clepsydra or water-clock, and a sun-dial, and these 
seem to have been not merely developed but invented by them. 1 

They divided the year into twelve lunar months, six having thirty days, 
six twenty-nine; and as this made but 354 days in all, they added a thir- 
teenth month occasionally to harmonize the calendar with the seasons. 
The month was divided into four weeks according to the four phases of 
the moon. An attempt was made to establish a more convenient calendar 
by dividing the month into six weeks of five days; but the phases of the 
moon proved more effective than the conveniences of men. The day was 
reckoned not from midnight to midnight but from one rising of the 
moon to the next; 1 * 4 it was divided into twelve hours, and each of these 
hours was divided into thirty minutes, so that the Babylonian minute had 
the feminine quality of being four times as long as its name might suggest. 
The division of our month into four weeks, of our clock into twelve 
hours (instead of twenty-four), of our hour into sixty minutes, and of 

* To the Babylonians a planet was distinguished from the "fixed" stars by its observable 
motion or "wandering." In modern astronomy a planet is defined as a heavenly body 
regularly revolving about the sun. 


our minute into sixty seconds, are unsuspected Babylonian vestiges in our 
contemporary world.* 

The dependence of Babylonian science upon religion had a more 
stagnant effect in medicine than in astronomy. It was not so much the ob- 
scurantism of the priests that held the science back, as the superstition of 
the people. Already by the time of Hammurabi the art of healing had 
separated itself in some measure from the domain and domination of the 
clergy; a regular profession of physician had been established, with fees 
and penalties fixed by law. A patient who called in a doctor could know 
in advance just how much he would have to pay for such treatment or 
operation; and if he belonged to the poorer classes the fee was lowered 
accordingly. 107 If the doctor bungled badly he had to pay damages to the 
patient; in extreme cases, as we have seen, his fingers were cut off so that 
he might not readily experiment again. 1 " 

But this almost secularized science found itself helpless before the de- 
mand of the people for supernatural diagnosis and magical cures. Sorcer- 
ers and necromancers were more popular than physicians, and enforced, 
by their influence with the populace, irrational methods of treatment. 
Disease was possession, and was due to sin; therefore it had to be treated 
mainly by incantations, magic and prayer; when drugs were used they 
were aimed not to cleanse the patient but to terrify and exorcise the 
demon. The favorite drug was a mixture deliberately compounded of dis- 
gusting elements, apparently on the theory that the sick man had a 
stronger stomach than the demon that possessed him; the usual ingredi- 
ents were raw meat, snake-flesh and wood-shavings mixed with wine and 
oil; or rotten food, crushed bones, fat and dirt, mingled with animal or 
human urine or excrement. 1 ** Occasionally this Dreckapothek was re- 
placed by an effort to appease the demon with milk, honey, cream, and 
sweet-smelling herbs. 100 If all treatment failed, the patient was in some 
cases carried into the market-place, so that his neighbors might indulge 
their ancient propensity for prescribing infallible cures. 181 

Perhaps the eight hundred medical tablets that survive to inform us 

* From charting the skies the Babylonians turned to mapping the earth. The oldest 
maps of which we have any knowledge were those which the priests prepared of the 
roads and cities of Nebuchadrezzar's empire. 1 * 5 A clay tablet found in the ruins of Gasur 
(two hundred miles north of Babylon), and dated back to 1600 B.C., contains, in a space 
hardly an inch square, a map of the province of Shat-Azalla; it represents mountains by 
rounded lines, water by tilting lines, rivers by parallel lines; the names of various town? 
are inscribed, and the direction of north and south is indicated in the margin. 16 * 


of Babylonian medicine do it injustice. Reconstruction of the whole 
from a part is hazardous in history, and the writing of history is the re- 
construction of the whole from a part. Quite possibly these magical 
cures were merely subtle uses of the power of suggestion; perhaps those 
evil concoctions were intended as emetics; and the Babylonian may have 
meant nothing more irrational by his theory of illness as due to invading 
demons and the patient's sins than we do by interpreting it as due to 
invading bacteria invited by culpable negligence, uncleanliness, or greed. 
We must not be too sure of the ignorance of our ancestors. 


Religion and Philosophy The Babylonian Job The Babylonian 
KohelethAn anti-clerical 

A. nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean. At its cradle (to repeat a 
thoughtful adage) religion stands, and philosophy accompanies it to the 
grave. In the beginning of all cultures a strong religious faith conceals and 
softens the nature of things, and gives men courage to bear pain and hard- 
ship patiently; at every step the gods are with them, and will not let them 
perish, until they do. Even then a firm faith will explain that it was the 
sins of the people that turned their gods to an avenging wrath; evil 
does not destroy faith, but strengthens it. If victory comes, if war is for- 
gotten in security and peace, then wealth grows; the life of the body gives 
way, in the dominant classes, to the life of the senses and the mind; toil 
and suffering are replaced by pleasure and ease; science weakens faith even 
while thought and comfort weaken virility and fortitude. At last men 
begin to doubt the gods; they mourn the tragedy of knowledge, and seek 
refuge in every passing delight. Achilles is at the beginning, Epicurus at 
the end. After David comes Job, and after Job, Ecclcsiastes. 

Since we know the thought of Babylon mostly from the later reigns, 
it is natural that we should find it shot through with the weary wisdom 
of tired philosophers who took their pleasures like Englishmen. On one 
tablet Balta-atrua complains that though he has obeyed the commands of 
the gods more strictly than any one else, he has been laid low with a 
variety of misfortunes; he has lost his parents and his property, and even 
the little that remained to him has been stolen on the highway. His 
friends, like Job's, reply that his disaster must be in punishment of some 
secret sin perhaps that hybris, or insolent pride of prosperity, which 


particularly arouses the jealous anger of the gods. They assure him that 
evil is merely good in disguise, some part of the divine plan seen too 
narrowly by frail minds unconscious of the whole. Let Balta-atrua keep 
faith and courage, and he will be rewarded in the end; better still, his 
enemies will be punished. Balta-atrua calls out to the gods for help 
and the fragment suddenly ends. 188 

Another poem, found among the ruins of Ashurbanipal's collection of 
Babylonian literature, presents the same problem more definitely in the 
person of Tabi-utul-Enlil, who appears to have been a ruler in Nippur. 
He describes his difficulties:* 

(My eyeballs he obscured, bolting them as with) a lock; 

(My cars he bolted), like those of a deaf person. 

A king, I have been changed into a slave; 

As a madman (my) companions maltreat me. 

Send me help from the pit dug (for me)! . . . 

By day deep sighs, at night weeping; 

The month cries; the year distress. . . . 

He goes on to tell what a pious fellow he has always been, the very last 
man in the world who should have met with so cruel a fate: 

As though I had not always set aside the portion for the god, 

And had not invoked the goddess at the meal, 

Had not bowed my face and brought my tribute; 

As though I were one in whose mouth supplication and prayer were 

not constant! . . . 

I taught my country to guard the name of the god; 
To honor the name of the goddess I accustomed my people. . . . 
I thought that such things were pleasing to a god. 

Stricken with disease despite all this formal piety, he muses on the 
impossibility of understanding the gods, and on the uncertainty of human 

Who is there that can grasp the will of the gods in heaven? 

The plan of a god full of mystery who can understand it? ... 

He who was alive yesterday is dead today; 

In an instant he is cast into grief; of a sudden he is crushed. 

* Parenthetical passages are guesse* 


For a moment he sings and plays; 

In a twinkling he wails like a mourner. . . . 

Like a net trouble has covered me. 

My eyes look but see not; 

My ears are open but they hear not. . . . 

Pollution has fallen upon my genitals, 

And it has assailed the glands in my bowels. . . . 

With death grows dark my whole body. . . . 

All day the pursuer pursues me; 

During the night he gives me no breath for a moment. . . . 

My limbs are dismembered, they march out of unison. 

In my dung I pass the night like an ox; 

Like a sheep I mix in my excrements. . . . 

Like Job, he makes another act of faith: 

But I know the day of the cessation of my tears, 
A day of the grace of the protecting spirits; then divinity will be 
merciful. 1 " 

In the end everything turns out happily. A spirit appears, and cures all 
of Tabi's ailments; a mighty storm drives all the demons of disease out 
of his frame. He praises Marduk, offers rich sacrifice, and calls upon 
every one never to despair of the gods.* 

As there is but a step from this to the Book of Job, so we find in late 
Babylonian literature unmistakable premonitions of Ecclesiastes. In the 
Epic of Gilgamesh the goddess Sabitu advises the hero to give up his 
longing for a life after death, and to eat, drink and be merry on the 

O Gilgamesh, why dost thou run in all directions? 

The life that thou seekest thou wilt not find. 

When the gods created mankind they determined death for mankind; 

Life they kept in their own hands. 

Thou, O Gilgamesh, fill thy belly; 

Day and night be thou merry; . . . 

Day and night be joyous and content! 

Let thy garments be pure, 

* It is probable that this composition, prototypes of which are found in Sumeria, influ- 
enced the author of the Book of Job. 


Thy head be washed; wash thyself with water! 
Regard the little one who takes hold of thy hand; 
Enjoy the wife in thy bosom. 1 "* 

In another tablet we hear a bitterer note, culminating in atheism and 
blasphemy. Gubarru, a Babylonian Alcibiades, interrogates an elder 

O very wise one, O possessor of intelligence, let thy heart groan! 
The heart of God is as far as the inner parts of the heavens. 
Wisdom is hard, and men do not understand it. 

To which the old man answers with a forboding of Amos and Isaiah: 

Give attention, my friend, and understand my thought. 

Men exalt the work of the great man who is skilled in murder. 

They disparage the poor man who has done no sin. 

They justify the wicked man, whose fault is grave. 

They drive away the just man who seeks the will of God. 

They let the strong take the food of the poor; 

They strengthen the mighty; 

They destroy the weak man, the rich man drives him away. 

He advises Gubarru to do the will of the gods none the less. But Gubarru 
will have nothing to do with gods or priests who are always on the side 
of the biggest fortunes: 

They have offered lies and untruth without ceasing. 

They say in noble words what is in favor of the rich man. 

Is his wealth diminished? They come to his help. 

They ill-treat the weak man like a thief, 

They destroy him in a tremor, they extinguish him like a flame. 16 * 

We must not exaggerate the prevalence of such moods in Babylon; 
doubtless the people listened lovingly to their priests, and crowded the 
temples to seek favors of the gods. The marvel is that they were so long 

* Cf. Ecclesiastes, ix, 7-9: "Go thy way, cat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine 
with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always 
white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest, 
all the days of the life of thy vanity." 


loyal to a religion that offered them so little consolation. Nothing could 
be known, said the priests, except by divine revelation; and this revela- 
tion came only through the priests. The last chapter of that revelation 
told how the dead soul, whether good or bad, descended into Aralu, or 
Hades, to spend there an eternity in darkness and suffering. Is it any 
wonder that Babylon gave itself to revelry, while Nebuchadrezzar, having 
all, understanding nothing, fearing everything, went mad? 


Tradition and the Book of Daniel, unverified by any document known 
to us, tell how Nebuchadrezzar, after a long reign of uninterrupted vic- 
tory and prosperity, after beautifying his city with roads and palaces, 
and erecting fifty-four temples to the gods, fell into a strange insanity, 
thought himself a beast, walked on all fours, and ate grass. 1 * 7 For four 
years his name disappears from the history and governmental records of 
Babylonia; 188 it reappears for a moment, and then, in 562 B.C., he passes 

Within thirty years after his death his empire crumbled to pieces. 
Nabonidus, who held the throne for seventeen years, preferred archeology 
to government, and devoted himself to excavating the antiquities of 
Sumeria while his own realm was going to ruin. 108 The army fell into 
disorder; business men forgot love of country in the sublime internation- 
alism of finance; the people, busy with trade and pleasure, unlearned the 
arts of war. The priests usurped more and more of the royal power, and 
fattened their treasuries with wealth that tempted invasion and conquest. 
When Cyrus and his disciplined Persians stood at the gates, the anti- 
clericals of Babylon connived to open the city to him, and welcomed his 
enlightened domination. 170 For two centuries Persia ruled Babylonia as 
part of the greatest empire that history had yet known. Then the exub- 
erant Alexander came, captured the unresisting capital, conquered all the 
Near East, and drank himself to death in the palace of Nebuchadrezzar. 171 

The civilization of Babylonia was not as fruitful for humanity as 
Egypt's, not as varied and profound as India's, not as subtle and mature 
as China's. And yet 'it was from Babylonia that those fascinating legends 
came which, through the literary artistry of the Jews, became an insep- 
arable portion of Europe's religious lore; it was from Babylonia, rather 
than from Egypt, that the roving Greeks brought to their city-stateSj 


and thence to Rome and ourselves, the foundations of mathematics, 
astronomy, medicine, grammar, lexicography, archeology, history, and 
philosophy. The Greek names for the metals and the constellations, for 
weights and measures, for musical instruments and many drugs, are trans- 
lations, sometimes mere transliterations, of Babylonian names. 172 While 
Greek architecture derived its forms and inspiration from Egypt and 
Crete, Babylonian architecture, through the ziggurat, led to the towers 
of Moslem mosques, the steeples and campaniles of medieval art, and the 
"setback" style of contemporary architecture in America. The laws of 
Hammurabi became for all ancient societies a legacy comparable to 
Rome's gift of order and government to the modern world. Through 
Assyria's conquest of Babylon, her appropriation of the ancient city's 
culture, and her dissemination of that culture throughout her wide em- 
pire; through the long Captivity of the Jews, and the great influence upon 
them of Babylonian life and thought; through the Persian and Greek con- 
quests, which opened with unprecedented fulness and freedom all the 
roads of communication and trade between Babylon and the rising cities 
of Ionia, Asia Minor and Greece through these and many other ways 
the civilization of the Land between the Rivers passed down into the 
cultural endowment of our race. In the end nothing is lost; for good or 
evil every event has effects forever. 




Beginnings Cities Race The conquerors Sennacherib and 
Esarhaddon "Sardanapalus" 

MEANWHILE, three hundred miles north of Babylon, another 
civilization had appeared. Forced to maintain a hard military life 
by the mountain tribes always threatening it on every side, it had in time 
overcome its assailants, had conquered its parent cities in Elam, Sumeria, 
Akkad and Babylonia, had mastered Phoenicia and Egypt, and had for 
two centuries dominated the Near East with brutal power. Sumeria was 
to Babylonia, and Babylonia to Assyria, what Crete was to Greece, and 
Greece to Rome: the first created a civilization, the second developed it to 
its height, the third inherited it, added little to it, protected it, and trans- 
mitted it as a dying gift to the encompassing and victorious barbarians. 
For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready 
to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility. Barbar- 
ism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for cen- 
turies to recover the territory it has lost. 

The new state grew about four cities fed by the waters or tributaries 
of the Tigris: Ashur, which is now Kala'at-Sherghat; Arbela, which is 
Irbil; Kalakh, which is Nimrud; and Nineveh, which is Kuyunjik just 
across the river from oily Mosul. At Ashur prehistoric obsidian flakes and 
knives have been found, and black pottery with geometric patterns that 
suggest a central Asian origin; 1 at Tepe Gawra, near the site of Nineveh, 
a recent expedition unearthed a town which its proud discoverers date 
back to 3700 B.C., despite its many temples and tombs, its well-carved 
cylinder seals, its combs and jewelry, and the oldest dice known to his- 
tory 1 a thought for reformers. The god Ashur gave his name to a city 
(and finally to all Assyria); there the earliest of the nation's kings had 
their residence, until its exposure to the heat of the desert and the attacks 
of the neighboring Babylonians led Ashur's rulers to build a secondary 



capital in cooler Ninevehnamed also after a god, Nina, the Ishtar of 
Assyria. Here, in the heyday of Ashurbanipal, 300,000 people lived, and 
all the western Orient came to pay tribute to the Universal King. 

The population was a mixture of Semites from the civilized south (Baby- 
lonia and Akkadia) with non-Semitic tribes from the west (probably of 
Hittite or Mitannian affinity) and Kurdish mountaineers from the Caucasus.* 
They took their common language and their arts from Sumeria, but modified 
them later into an almost undistinguishable similarity to the language and arts 
of Babylonia/ Their circumstances, however, forbade them to indulge in 
the effeminate ease of Babylon; from beginning to end they were a race of 
warriors, mighty in muscle and courage, abounding in proud hair and beard, 
standing straight, stern and stolid on their monuments, and bestriding with 
tremendous feet the east-Mediterranean world. Their history is one of kings 
and slaves, wars and conquests, bloody victories and sudden defeat. The early 
kings once mere patens tributary to the south took advantage of the 
Kassite domination of Babylonia to establish their independence; and soon 
enough one of them decked himself with that title which all the monarchs 
of Assyria were to display: "King of Universal Reign." Out of the dull 
dynasties of these forgotten potentates certain figures emerge whose deeds 
illuminate the development of their country.* 

While Babylonia was still in the darkness of the Kassite era, Shalmaneser 
I brought the little city-states of the north under one rule, and made Kalakh 
his capital. But the first great name in Assyrian history is Tiglath-Pileser I. 
He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: if it is wise to believe monarchs, 
he slew 120 lions on foot, and 800 from his chariot. 6 One of his inscriptions 
written by a scribe more royalist than the King tells how he hunted nations 
as well as animals: "In my fierce valor I marched against the people of 
Qummuh, conquered their cities, carried off their booty, their goods and 
their property without reckoning, and burned their cities with fire destroyed 
and devastated them. . . . The people of Adansh left their mountains and 
embraced my feet. I imposed taxes upon them." 6 In every direction he led 
his armies, conquering the Hittites, the Armenians, and forty other nations, 
capturing Babylon, and frightening Egypt into sending him anxious gifts. 
(He was particularly mollified by a crocodile.) With the proceeds of his con- 
quests he built temples to the Assyrian gods and goddesses, who, like anxious 

*A tablet recently found in the ruins of Sargon IFs library at Khorsabad contains an 
unbroken list of Assyrian kings from the twenty-third century EJC. to Ashurnirari 
(753-46 B.C.)* 


debutantes, asked no questions about the source of his wealth. Then Babylon 
revolted, defeated his armies, pillaged his temples, and carried his gods into 
Babylonian captivity. Tiglath-Pileser died of shame. 7 

His reign was a symbol and summary of all Assyrian history: death and 
taxes, first for Assyria's neighbors, then for herself. Ashurnasirpal II con- 
quered a dozen petty states, brought much booty home from the wars, cut 
out with his own hand the eyes of princely captives, enjoyed his harem, and 
passed respectably away. 8 Shalmaneser III carried these conquests as far as 
Damascus; fought costly battles, killing 16,000 Syrians in one engagement; 
built temples, levied tribute, and was deposed by his son in a violent revolu- 
tion. 9 Sammuramat ruled as queen-mother for three years, and provided a 
frail historical basis (for this is all that we know of her) for the Greek legend 
of Semiramis half goddess and half queen, great general, great engineer and 
great statesmanso attractively detailed by Diodorus the Sicilian. 10 Tiglath- 
Pileser III gathered new armies, reconquered Armenia, overran Syria and 
Babylonia, made vassal cities of Damascus, Samaria and Babylon, extended the 
rule of Assyria from the Caucasus to Egypt, tired of war, became an excel- 
lent administrator, built many temples and palaces, held his empire together 
with an iron hand, and died peacefully in bed. Sargon II, an officer in the 
army, made himself king by a Napoleonic coup d'etat; led his troops in per- 
son, and took in every engagement the most dangerous post; 11 defeated Elam 
and Egypt, reconquered Babylonia, and received the homage of the Jews, the 
Philistines, even of the Cypriote Greeks; ruled his empire well, encouraged 
arts and letters, handicrafts and trade, and died in a victorious battle that 
definitely preserved Assyria from invasion by the wild Cimmerian hordes. 

His son Sennacherib put down revolts in the distant provinces adjoin- 
ing the Persian Gulf, attacked Jerusalem and Egypt without success,* 
sacked eighty-nine cities and 820 villages, captured 7,200 horses, n,ooo 
asses, 80,000 oxen, 800,000 sheep, and 208,000 prisoners; 18 the official his- 
torian, on his life, did not understate these figures. Then, irritated by the 
prejudice of Babylon in favor of freedom, he besieged it, took it, and 
burned it to the ground; nearly all the inhabitants, young and old, male 
and female, were put to death, so that mountains of corpses blocked the 
streets; the temples and palaces were pillaged to the last shekel, and the 
once omnipotent gods of Babylon were hacked to pieces or carried in 

* Egyptian tradition attributed the escape of Egypt to discriminating field mice who ate 
up the quivers, bow-strings and shield-straps of the Assyrians encamped before Pelusium, 
so that the Egyptians were enabled to defeat the invaders easily the next day." 


bondage to Nineveh: Marduk the god became a menial to Ashur. Such 
Babylonians as survived did not conclude that Marduk had been over- 
rated; they told themselves as the captive Jews would tell themselves a 
century later in that same Babylon that their god had condescended to 
be defeated in order to punish his people. With the spoils of his con- 
quests and pillage Sennacherib rebuilt Nineveh, changed the courses of 
rivers to protect it, reclaimed waste lands with the vigor of countries 
suffering from an agricultural surplus, and was assassinated by his sons 
while piously mumbling his prayers. 14 

Another son, Esarhaddon, snatched the throne from his blood-stained 
brothers, invaded Egypt to punish her for supporting Syrian revolts, made 
her an Assyrian province, amazed western Asia with his long triumphal 
progress from Memphis to Nineveh, dragging endless booty in his train; 
established Assyria in unprecedented prosperity as master of the whole 
Near Eastern world; delighted Babylonia by freeing and honoring its cap- 
tive gods, and rebuilding its shattered capital; conciliated Elam by feeding 
its famine-stricken people in an act of international beneficence almost 
without parallel in the ancient world; and died on the way to suppress a 
revolt in Egypt, after giving his empire the justest and kindliest rule in 
its half -barbarous history. 

His successor, Ashurbanipal (the Sardanapalus of the Greeks), reaped 
the fruits of Esarhaddon's sowing. During his long reign Assyria reached 
the climax of its wealth and prestige; after him his country, ruined by 
forty years of intermittent war, fell into exhaustion and decay, and ended 
its career hardly a decade after Ashurbanipal's death. A scribe has pre- 
served to us a yearly record of this reign; 10 it is a dull and bloody mess of 
war after war, siege after siege, starved cities and flayed captives. The 
scribe represents Ashurbanipal himself as reporting his destruction of 

For a distance of one month and twenty-five days' march I devas- 
tated the districts of Elam. I spread salt and thorn-bush there (to 
injure the soil). Sons of the kings, sisters of the kings, members of 
Elam's royal family young and old, prefects, governors, knights, arti- 
sans, as many as there were, inhabitants male and female, big and 
little, horses, mules, asses, flocks and herds more numerous than a 
swarm of locustsI carried them off as booty to Assyria. The dust 
of Susa, of Madaktu, of Haltemash and of their other cities, I carried 
it off to Assyria. In a month of days I subdued Elam in its whole 


extent. The voice of man, the steps of flocks and herds, the happy 
shouts of mirth I put an end to them in its fields, which I left for 
the asses, the gazelles, and all manner of wild beasts to people. 1 * 

The .severed head of the Elamite king was brought to Ashurbanipal as he 
feasted with his queen in the palace garden; he had the head raised on a 
pole in the midst of his guests, and the royal revel went on; later the 
head was fixed over the gate of Nineveh, and slowly rotted away. The 
Elamite general, Dananu, was flayed alive, and then was bled like a lamb; 
his brother had his throat cut, and his body was divided into pieces, which 
were distributed over the country as souvenirs." 

It never occurred to Ashurbanipal that he and his men were brutal; 
these clean-cut penalties were surgical necessities in his attempt to remove 
rebellions and establish discipline among the heterogeneous and turbulent 
peoples, from Ethiopia to Armenia, and from Syria to Media, whom his 
predecessors had subjected to Assyrian rule; it was his obligation to main- 
tain this legacy intact. He boasted of the peace that he had established in 
his empire, and of the good order that prevailed in its cities; and the 
boast was not without truth. That he was not merely a conqueror intoxi- 
cated with blood he proved by his munificence as a builder and as a 
patron of letters and the arts. Like some Roman ruler calling to the 
Greeks, he sent to all his dominions for sculptors and architects to design 
and adorn new temples and palaces; he commissioned innumerable scribes 
to secure and copy for him all the classics of Sumerian and Babylonian 
' literature, and gathered these copies in his library at Nineveh, where 
modern scholarship found them almost intact after twenty-five centuries 
of time had flowed over them. Like another Frederick, he was as vain 
of his literary abilities as of his triumphs in war and the chase." Diodorus 
describes him as a dissolute and bisexual Nero," but in the wealth of docu- 
ments that have come down to us from this period there is little corrobo- 
ration for this view. From the composition of literary tablets Ashurbani- 
pal passed with royal confidence armed only with knife and javelin to 
hand-to-hand encounters with lions; if we may credit the reports of his 
contemporaries he did not hesitate to lead the attack in person, and often 
dealt with his own hand the decisive blow." Little wonder that Byron was 
fascinated with him, and wove about him a drama half legend and half 
history, in which all the wealth and power of Assyria came to their 
height, and broke into universal ruin and royal despair. 



Imperialism Assyrian 'war The conscript gods Law Delicacies 

of penology Administration The violence of Oriental 


If we should admit the imperial principle that it is good, for the sake 
of spreading law, security, commerce and peace, that many states should 
be brought, by persuasion or force, under the authority of one govern- 
mentthen we should have to concede to Assyria the distinction of having 
established in western Asia a larger measure and area of order and pros- 
perity than that region of the earth had ever, to our knowledge, enjoyed 
before. The government of Ashurbanipal which ruled Assyria, Baby- 
lonia, Armenia, Media, Palestine, Syria, Phoenicia, Sumeria, Elam and 
Egypt was without doubt the most extensive administrative organization 
yet seen in the Mediterranean or Near Eastern world; only Hammurabi 
and Thutmose III had approached it, and Persia alone would equal it be- 
fore the coming of Alexander. In some ways it was a liberal empire; its 
larger cities retained considerable local autonomy, and each nation in 
it was left its own religion, law and ruler, provided it paid its tribute 
promptly. 81 In so loose an organization every weakening of the central 
power was bound to produce rebellions, or, at the best, a certain tributary 
negligence, so that the subject states had to be conquered again and again. 
To avoid these recurrent rebellions Tiglath-Pilcser III established the 
characteristic Assyrian policy of deporting conquered populations to alien 
habitats, where, mingling with the natives, they might lose their unity 
and identity, and have less opportunity to rebel. Revolts came neverthe- 
less, and Assyria had to keep herself always ready for war. 

The army was therefore the most vital part of the government. Assyria 
recognized frankly that government is the nationalization of force, and 
her chief contributions to progress were in the art of war. Chariots, 
cavalry, infantry and sappers were organized into flexible formations, 
siege mechanisms were as highly developed as among the Romans, strat- 
egy and tactics were well understood." Tactics centered about the idea 
of rapid movement making possible a piecemeal attack so old is the secret 
of Napoleon. Iron-working had grown to the point of encasing the warrior 
with armor to a degree of stiffness rivaling a medieval knight; even the 
archers and pikemen wore copper or iron helmets, padded loin-cloths, 


enormous shields, and a leather skirt covered with metal scales. The 
weapons were arrows, lances, cutlasses, maces, clubs, slings and battle- 
axes. The nobility fought from chariots in the van of the battle, and the 
king, in his royal chariot, usually led them in person; generals had not 
yet learned to die in bed. Ashurnasirpal introduced the use of cavalry as 
an aid to the chariots, and this innovation proved decisive in many en- 
gagements. M The principal siege engine was a battering-ram tipped with 
iron; sometimes it was suspended from a scaffold by ropes, and was swung 
back to give it forward impetus; sometimes it was run forward on wheels. 
The besieged fought from the walls with missiles, torches, burning pitch, 
chains designed to entangle the ram, and gaseous "stink-pots" (as they 
were called) to befuddle the enemy; 24 again the novel is not new. A cap- 
tured city was usually plundered and burnt to the ground, and its site 
was deliberately denuded by killing its trees.* 5 The loyalty of the troops 
was secured by dividing a large part of the spoils among them; their 
bravery was ensured by the general rule of the Near East that all captives 
in war might be enslaved or slain. Soldiers were rewarded for every sev- 
ered head they brought in from the field, so that the aftermath of a vic- 
tory generally witnessed the wholesale decapitation of fallen foes. 89 Most 
often the prisoners, who would have consumed much food in a long 
campaign, and would have constituted a danger and nuisance in the rear, 
were despatched after the battle; they knelt with their backs to their 
captors, who beat their heads in with clubs, or cut them off with cutlasses. 
Scribes stood by to count the number of prisoners taken and killed by 
each soldier, and apportioned the booty accordingly; the king, if time 
permitted, presided at the slaughter. The nobles among the defeated 
were given more special treatment: their ears, noses, hands and feet were 
sliced off, or they were thrown from high towers, or they and their chil- 
dren were beheaded, or flayed alive, or roasted over a slow fire. No com- 
punction seems to have been felt at this waste of human life; the birth 
rate would soon make up for it, and meanwhile it relieved the pressure of 
population upon the means of subsistence." Probably it was in part by 
their reputation for mercy to prisoners of war that Alexander and Caesar 
undermined the morale of the enemy, and conquered the Mediterranean 

Next to the army the chief reliance of the monarch was upon the church, 
and he paid lavishly for the support of the priests. The formal head of the 


state was by concerted fiction the god Ashur; all pronouncements were in 
his name, all laws were edicts of his divine will, all taxes were collected for 
his treasury, all campaigns were fought to furnish him (or, occasionally, an- 
other deity) with spoils and glory. The king had himself described as a god, 
usually an incarnation of Shamash, the sun. The religion of Assyria, like its 
language, its science and its arts, was imported from Sumeria and Babylonia, 
with occasional adaptations to the needs of a military state. 

The adaptation was most visible in the case of the law, which was dis- 
tinguished by a martial ruthlessness. Punishment ranged from public exhibi- 
tion to forced labor, twenty to a hundred lashes, the slitting of nose and 
ears, castration, pulling out the tongue, gouging out the eyes, impalement, 
and beheading. 28 The laws of Sargon II prescribe such additional delicacies 
as the drinking of poison, and the burning of the offender's son or daughter 
alive on the altar of the god; 20 but there is no evidence of these laws being 
carried out in the last millennium before Christ. Adultery, rape and some 
forms of theft were considered capital crimes. 30 Trial by ordeal was occa- 
sionally employed; the accused, sometimes bound in fetters, was flung into 
the river, and his guilt was left to the arbitrament of the water. In general 
Assyrian law was less secular and more primitive than the Babylonian Code 
of Hammurabi, which apparently preceded it in time.* 

Local administration, originally by feudal barons, fell in the course of time 
into the hands of provincial prefects or governors appointed by the king; this 
form of imperial government was taken over by Persia, and passed on from 
Persia to Rome. The prefects were expected to collect taxes, to organize 
the corvee for works which, like irrigation, could not be left to personal 
initiative; and above all to raise regiments and lead them in the royal cam- 
paigns. Meanwhile royal spies (or, as we should say, "intelligence officers") 
kept watch on these prefects and their aides, and informed the king con- 
cerning the state of the nation. 

All in all, the Assyrian government was primarily an instrument of 
war. For war was often more profitable than peace; it cemented dis- 
cipline, intensified patriotism, strengthened the royal power, and brought 
abundant spoils and slaves for the enrichment and service of the capital. 
Hence Assyrian history is largely a picture of cities sacked and villages 
or fields laid waste. When Ashurbanipal suppressed the revolt of his 
brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, and captured Babylon after a long and 
bitter siege, 

* The oldest extant Assyrian laws are ninety articles contained on three tablets found at 
Ashur and dating ca. 1300 H.C. SI 


the city presented a terrible spectacle, and shocked even the 
Assyrians. . . . Most of the numerous victims to pestilence or 
famine lay about the streets or in the public squares, a prey to the 
dogs and swine; such of the inhabitants and the soldiery as were 
comparatively strong had endeavored to escape into the country, 
and only those remained who had not sufficient strength to drag 
themselves beyond the walls. Ashurbanipal pursued the fugitives, 
and having captured nearly all of them, vented on them the full 
fury of his vengeance. He caused the tongues of the soldiers to be 
torn out, and then had them clubbed to death. He massacred the 
common folk in front of the great winged bulls which had already 
witnessed a similar butchery half a century before under his grand- 
father Sennacherib. The corpses of the victims remained long un- 
buried, a prey to all unclean beasts and birds. 8 " 

The weakness of Oriental monarchies was bound up with this addiction 
to violence. Not only did the subject provinces repeatedly revolt, but 
within the royal palace or family itself violence again and again attempted 
to upset what violence had established and maintained. At or near the end 
of almost every reign some disturbance broke out over the succession to 
the throne; the aging monarch saw conspiracies forming around him, and 
in several cases he was hastened to his end by murder. The nations of the 
Near East preferred violent uprisings to corrupt elections, and their form 
of recall was assassination. Some of these wars were doubtless inevitable: 
barbarians prowled about every frontier, and one reign of weakness 
would see the Scythians, the Cimmerians, or some other horde, sweeping 
down upon the wealth of the Assyrian cities. And perhaps we exaggerate 
the frequency of war and violence in these Oriental states, through the 
accident that ancient monuments and modern chroniclers have preserved 
the dramatic record of battles, and ignored the victories of peace. His- 
torians have been prejudiced in favor of bloodshed; they found it, or 
thought their readers would find it, more interesting than the quiet 
achievements of the mind. We think war less frequent today because we 
are conscious of the lucid intervals of peace, while history seems con- 
scious only of the fevered crises of war. 



Industry and tradeMarriage and morals Religion and science- 
Letters and libraries The Assyrian ideal of a gentleman 

The economic life of Assyria did not differ much from that of Baby- 
lonia, for in many ways the two countries were merely the north and 
south of one civilization. The southern kingdom was more commercial, the 
northern more agricultural; rich Babylonians were usually merchants, rich 
Assyrians were most often landed gentry actively supervising great estates, 
and looking with Roman scorn upon men who made their living by buying 
cheap and selling dear." Nevertheless the same rivers flooded and nour- 
ished the land, the same method of ridges and canals controlled the over- 
flow, the same shadufs raised the water from ever deeper beds to fields 
sown with the same wheat and barley, millet and sesame.* The same in- 
dustries supported the life of the towns; the same system of weights and 
measures governed the exchange of goods; and though Nineveh and her 
sister capitals were too far north to be great centers of commerce, the 
wealth brought to them by Assyria's sovereigns filled them with handicrafts 
and trade. Metal was mined or imported in new abundance, and towards 
700 B.C. iron replaced bronze as the basic metal of industry and armament. 85 
Metal was cast, glass was blown, textiles were dyed,t earthenware was 
enameled, and houses were as well equipped in Nineveh as in Europe before 
the Industrial Revolution. 88 During the reign of Sennacherib an aqueduct was 
built which brought water to Nineveh from thirty miles away; a thousand 
feet of it, recently discovered,^ constitute the oldest aqueduct known. In- 
dustry and trade were financed in part by private bankers, who charged 
25% for loans. Lead, copper, silver and gold served as currency; and about 
700 B.C. Sennacherib minted silver into half-shekel pieces one of our earliest 
examples of an official coinage. 87 

The people fell into five classes: patricians or nobles; craftsmen or master- 
artisans, organized in guilds, and including the professions as well as the 
trades; the unskilled but free workmen and peasants of town and village; 
serfs bound to the soil on great estates, in the manner of medieval Europe; 

* Other products of Assyrian cultivation were olives, grapes, garlic, onions, lettuce, 
cress, beets, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, alfalfa, and licorice. Meat was rarely eaten by 
any but the aristocracy;* 4 except for fish this war-like nation was largely vegetarian. 

fA tablet of Sennacherib, ca. 700 B.C., contains the oldest known reference to cotton: 
"The tree that bore wool they clipped and shredded for cotton."*' It was probably im- 
ported from India. 

$By the Iraq Expedition of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 


and slaves captured in war or attached for debt, compelled to announce 
their status by pierced ears and shaven head, and performing most of the 
menial labor everywhere. On a bas-relief of Sennacherib we see super- 
visers holding the whip over slaves who, in long parallel lines, are drawing a 
heavy piece of statuary on a wooden sledge. 88 

Like all military states, Assyria encouraged a high birth rate by its 
moral code and its laws. Abortion was a capital crime; a woman who 
secured miscarriage, even a woman who died of attempting it, was to be 
impaled on a stake. 30 Though women rose to considerable power through 
marriage and intrigue, their position was lower than in Babylonia. Severe 
penalties were laid upon them for striking their husbands, wives were not 
allowed to go out in public unveiled, and strict fidelity was exacted of 
them though their husbands might have all the concubines they could 
afford. 40 Prostitution was accepted as inevitable, and was regulated by the 
state. 40 " The king had a varied harem, whose inmates were condemned to 
a secluded life of dancing, singing, quarreling, needlework and conspir- 
acy. 41 A cuckolded husband might kill his rival in flagrante delicto, and 
was held to be within his rights; this is a custom that has survived many 
codes. For the rest the law of matrimony was as in Babylonia, except 
that marriage was often by simple purchase, and in many cases the wife 
lived in her father's house, visited occasionally by her husband." 

In all departments of Assyrian life we meet with a patriarchal stern- 
ness natural to a people that lived by conquest, and in every sense on the 
border of barbarism. Just as the Romans took thousands of prisoners into 
lifelong slavery after their victories, and dragged others to the Circus 
Maximus to be torn to pieces by starving animals, so the Assyrians seemed 
to find satisfaction or a necessary tutelage for their sons in torturing 
captives, blinding children before the eyes of their parents, flaying men 
alive, roasting them in kilns, chaining them in cages for the amusement of 
the populace, and then sending the survivors off to execution. 43 Ashur- 
nasirpal tells how "all the chiefs who had revolted I flayed, with their 
skins I covered the pillar, some in the midst I walled up, others on stakes 
1 impaled, still others I arranged around the pillar on stakes. ... As for 
the chieftains and royal officers who had rebelled, I cut off their mem- 
bers." 44 Ashurbanipal boasts that "I burned three thousand captives with 
fire, I left not a single one among them alive to serve as a hostage." 4 * 
Another of his inscriptions reads: "These warriors who had sinned against 


Ashur and had plotted evil against me ... from their hostile mouths have 
I torn their tongues, and I have compassed their destruction. As for the 
others who remained alive, I offered them as a funerary sacrifice; . . . 
their lacerated members have I given unto the dogs, the swine, the wolves. 
... By accomplishing these deeds I have rejoiced the heart of the great 
gods."" Another monarch instructs his artisans to engrave upon the 
bricks these claims on the admiration of posterity: "My war chariots 
crush men and beasts. . . . The monuments which I erect are made of 
human corpses from which I have cut the head and limbs. I cut off the 
hands of all those whom I capture alive." 47 Reliefs at Nineveh show men 
being impaled or flayed, or having their tongues torn out; one shows a 
king gouging out the eyes of prisoners with a lance while he holds their 
heads conveniently in place with a cord passed through their lips." As we 
read such pages we become reconciled to our own mediocrity. 

Religion apparently did nothing to mollify this tendency to brutality and 
violence. It had less influence with the government than in Babylonia, and 
took its cue from the needs and tastes of the kings. Ashur, the national 
deity, was a solar god, warlike and merciless to his enemies; his people be- 
lieved that he took a divine satisfaction in the execution of prisoners before 
his shrine.' 9 The essential function of Assyrian religion was to train the 
future citizen to a patriotic docility, and to teach him the art of wheedling 
favors out of the gods by magic and sacrifice. The only religious texts that 
survive from Assyria are exorcisms and omens. Long lists of omens have 
come down to us in which the inevitable results of every manner of event 
are given, and methods of avoiding them are prescribed. 150 The world was 
pictured as crowded with demons, who had to be warded off by charms 
suspended about the neck, or by long and careful incantations. 

In such an atmosphere the only science that flourished was that of war. 
Assyrian medicine was merely Babylonian medicine; Assyrian astronomy 
was merely Babylonian astrology the stars were studied chiefly with a view 
to divination." We find no evidence of philosophical speculation, no se- 
cular attempt to explain the world. Assyrian philologists made lists of plants, 
probably for the use of medicine, and thereby contributed moderately to 
establish botany; other scribes made lists of nearly all the objects they had 
found under the sun, and their attempts to classify these objects ministered 
slightly to the natural science of the Greeks. From these lists our language 
has taken, usually through the Greeks, such words as hangar, gypsum, camel, 
plinth, shekel, rose, ammonia, jasper, cane, cherry, laudanum* naphtha, sesame, 
hyssop and myrrh* 


The tablets recording the deeds of the kings, though they have the 
distinction of being at once bloody and dull, must be accorded the honor 
of being among the oldest extant forms of historiography. They were in 
the early years mere chronicles, registering royal victories, and admitting 
of no defeats; they became, in later days, embellished and literary ac- 
counts of the important events of the reign. The clearest title of Assyria 
to a place in a history of civilization was its libraries. That of Ashur- 
banipal contained 30,000 clay tablets, classified and catalogued, each tablet 
bearing an easily identifiable tag. Many of them bore the King's book- 
mark: "Whoso shall carry off this tablet, . . . may Ashur and Belit over- 
throw him in wrath . . . and destroy his name and posterity from the 
land." 53 A large number of the tablets are copies of undated older works, 
of which earlier forms are being constantly discovered; the avowed pur- 
pose of AshurbanipaPs library was to preserve the literature of Baby- 
lonia from oblivion. But only a small number of the tablets would now 
be classed as literature; the majority of them are official records, astro- 
logical and augural observations, oracles, medical prescriptions and re- 
ports, exorcisms, hymns, prayers, and genealogies of the kings and the 
gods." Among the least dull of the tablets are two in which Ashur- 
banipal confesses, with quaint insistence, his scandalous delight in books 
and knowledge: 

I, Ashurbanipal, understood the wisdom of Nabu,* I acquired an 
understanding of all the arts of tablet-writing. I learnt to shoot the 
bow, to ride horses and chariots, and to hold the reins. . . . Mar- 
duk, the wise one of the gods, presented me with information and 
understanding as a gift. . . . Enurt and Nergal made me virile and 
strong, of incomparable force. I understood the craft of the wise 
Adapa, the hidden secrets of all the scribal art; in heavenly and 
earthly buildings I read and pondered; in the meetings of clerks I 
was present; I watched the omens, I explained the heavens with the 
learned priests, recited the complicated multiplications and divisions 
that are not immediately apparent. The beautiful writings in Su- 
merian that are obscure, in Akkadian that are difficult to bear in mind, 
it was my joy to repeat. ... I mounted colts, rode them with 
prudence so that they were not violent; I drew the bow, sped the 
arrow, the sign of the warrior. I flung the quivering javelins like 
short lances. ... I held the reins like a charioteer. ... I directed 

* The god of wisdom, corresponding to Thoth, Hermes and Mercury. 


the weaving of reed shields and breastplates like a pioneer. I had 
the learning that all clerks of every kind possess when their time of 
maturity comes. At the same time I learnt what is proper for lord- 
ship, I went my royal ways. 80 


Minor arts Bas-relief Statuary Building A page from 

At last, in the field of art, Assyria equaled her preceptor Babylonia, 
and in bas-relief surpassed her. Stimulated by the influx of wealth into 
Ashur, Kalakh and Nineveh, artists and artisans began to produce for 
nobles and their ladies, for kings and palaces, for priests and temples- 
jewels of every description, cast metal as skilfully designed and finely 
wrought as on the great gates at Balawat, and luxurious furniture of richly 
carved and costly woods strengthened with metal and inlaid with gold, 
silver, bronze, or precious stones. 50 Pottery was poorly developed, and 
music, like so much else, was merely imported from Babylon; but tem- 
pera painting in bright colors under a thin glaze became one of the char- 
acteristic arts of Assyria, from which it passed to its perfection in 
Persia. Painting, as always in the ancient East, was a secondary and de- 
pendent art. 

In the heyday of Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashurbani- 
pal, and presumably through their lavish patronage, the art of bas-relief 
created new masterpieces for the British Museum. One of the best ex- 
amples, however, dates from Ashurnasirpal II; it represents, in chaste 
alabaster, the good god Marduk overcoming the evil god of chaos, 
Tiamat. 17 The human figures in Assyrian reliefs are stiff and coarse and 
all alike, as if some perfect model had insisted on being reproduced for- 
ever; all the men have the same massive heads, the same brush of whiskers, 
the same stout bellies, the same invisible necks; even the gods are these 
same Assyrians in very slight disguise. Only now and then do the human 
figures take on vitality, as in the alabaster relief depicting spirits in adora- 
tion before a palmetto tree, 58 and the fine limestone stele of Shamsi-Adad 
VII found at Kalakh. 89 Usually it is the animal reliefs that stir us; never 
before or since has carving pictured animals so successfully. The panels 
monotonously repeat scenes of war and the hunt; but the eye never tires 
of their vigor of action, their flow of motion, and their simple directness 


of line. It is as if the artist, forbidden to portray his masters realistically 
or individually, had given all his lore and skill to the animals; he repre- 
sents them in a profusion of species lions, horses, asses, goats, dogs, deer, 
birds, grasshoppers and in every attitude except rest; too often he shows 
them in the agony of death; but even then they are the center and life of 
his picture and his art. The majestic horses of Sargon II on the reliefs 
at Khorsabad; 80 the wounded lioness from Sennacherib's palace at Nine- 
veh; 61 the dying lion in alabaster from the palace of Ashurbanipal; 8 * the 
lion-hunts of Ashurnasirpal II and Ashurbanipal;" the resting lioness,* 4 and 
the lion released from a trap;" the fragment in which a lion and his mate 
bask in the shade of the trees 80 these are among the world's choicest mas- 
terpieces in this form of art. The representation of natural objects in the 
reliefs is stylized and crude; the forms are heavy, the outlines are hard, 
the muscles are exaggerated; and there is no other attempt at perspective 
than the placing of the distant in the upper half of the picture, on the same 
scale as the foreground presented below. Gradually, however, the guild 
of sculptors under Sennacherib learned to offset these defects with a 
boldly realistic portrayal, a technical finish, and above all a vivid percep- 
tion of action, which, in the field of animal sculpture, have never been 
surpassed. Bas-relief was to the Assyrian what sculpture was to the 
Greek, or painting to the Italians of the Renaissance a favorite art 
uniquely expressing the national ideal of form and character. 

We cannot say as much for Assyrian sculpture. The carvers of 
Nineveh and Kalakh seem to have preferred relief to work in the 
round; very little full sculpture has come down to us from the ruins, and 
none of it is of a high order. The animals are full of power and majesty, 
as if conscious of not only physical but moral superiority to man like 
the bulls that guarded the gateway at Khorsabad; 87 the human or divine 
figures are primitively coarse and heavy, adorned but undistinguished, 
erect but dead. An exception might be made for the massive statue of 
Ashurnasirpal II now in the British Museum; through all its heavy lines 
one sees a man every inch a king: royal sceptre firmly grasped, thick lips 
set with determination, eyes cruel and alert, a bull-like neck boding short 
shrift for enemies and falsifiers of tax-reports, and two gigantic feet full 
poised on the back of the world. 

We must not take too seriously our judgments of this sculpture; very 
likely the Assyrians idolized knotted muscles and short necks, and would 
have looked with martial scorn upon our almost feminine slenderness, or 


the smooth, voluptuous grace of Praxiteles' Hermes and the Apollo Bel- 
vedere. As for Assyrian architecture, how can we estimate its excellence 
when nothing remains of it but ruins almost level with the sand, and 
serving chiefly as a hook upon which brave archeologists may hang their 
imaginative "restorations"? Like Babylonian and recent American archi- 
tecture, the Assyrian aimed not at beauty but at grandeur, and sought it 
by mass design. Following the traditions of Mesopotamian art, Assyrian 
architecture adopted brick as its basic material, but went its own way by 
facing it more lavishly with stone. It inherited the arch and the vault from 
the south, developed them, and made some experiments in columns which 
led the way to the caryatids and the voluted "Ionic" capitals of the Per- 
sians and the Greeks." The palaces squatted over great areas of ground, 
and were wisely limited to two or three stories in height; 60 ordinarily they 
were designed as a series of halls and chambers enclosing a quiet and 
shaded court. The portals of the royal residences were guarded with 
monstrous stone animals, the entrance hall was lined with historical re- 
liefs and statuary, the floors were paved with alabaster slabs, the walls 
were hung with costly tapestries, or paneled with precious woods, and 
bordered with elegant mouldings; the roofs were reinforced with mas- 
ive beams, sometimes covered with leaf of silver or gold, and the ceilings 
were often painted with representations of natural scenery. 70 

The six mightiest warriors of Assyria were also its greatest builders. 
Tiglath-Pileser I rebuilt in stone the temples of Ashur, and left word 
about one of them that he had "made its interior brilliant like the vault 
of heaven, decorated its walls like the splendor of the rising stars, and 
made it superb with shining brightness." 71 The later emperors gave gen- 
erously to the temples, but, like Solomon, they preferred their palaces. 
Ashurnasirpal II built at Kalakh an immense edifice of stone-faced brick, 
ornamented with reliefs praising piety and war. Nearby, at Balawat, Ras- 
sam found the ruins of another structure, from which he rescued two 
bronze gates of magnificent workmanship. Sargon II commemorated 
himself by raising a spacious palace at Dur-Sharrukin (i.e., Fort Sargon, 
on the site of the modern Khorsabad) ; its gateway was flanked by winged 
bulls, its walls were decorated with reliefs and shining tiles, its vast rooms 
were equipped with delicately carved furniture, and were adorned with 
imposing statuary. From every victory Sargon brought more slaves to 
work on this construction, and more marble, lapis lazuli, bronze, silver and 
gold to beautify it. Around it he set a group of temples, and in the rear 


he offered to the god a ziggurat of seven stories, topped with silver and 
gold. Sennacherib raised at Nineveh a royal mansion called "The Incom- 
parable," surpassing in size all other palaces of antiquity; 78 its walls and 
floors sparkled with precious metals, woods, and stones; its tiles vied in 
their brilliance with the luminaries of day and night; the metal-workers 
cast for it gigantic lions and oxen of copper, and the sculptors carved for 
it winged bulls of limestone and alabaster, and lined its walls with pas- 
toral symphonies in bas-relief. Esarhaddon continued the rebuilding and 
enlargement of Nineveh, and excelled all his predecessors in the grandeur 
of his edifices and the luxuriousncss of their equipment; a dozen provinces 
provided him with materials and men; new ideas for columns and deco- 
rations came to him during his sojourn in Egypt; and when at last his 
palaces and temples were complete they were filled with the artistic 
booty and conceptions of the whole Near Eastern world. 74 

The worst commentary on Assyrian architecture lies in the fact that 
within sixty years after Esarhaddon had finished his palace it was crum- 
bling into ruins. 75 Ashurbanipal tells us how he rebuilt it; as we read 
his inscription the centuries fade, and we see dimly into the heart of the 

At that time the harem, the resting-place of the palace . . . 
which Sennacherib, my grandfather, had built for his royal dwell- 
ing, had become old with joy and gladness, and its walls had fallen. 
I, Ashurbanipal, the Great King, the mighty King, the King of the 
World, the King of Assyria, . . . because I had grown up in that 
harem, and Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Ramman, Bel, Nabu, Ishtar, . . . 
Ninib, Nergal and Nusku had preserved me therein as crown prince, 
and had extended their good protection and shelter of prosperity 
over me, . . . and had constantly sent me joyful tidings therein of 
victory over my enemies; and because my dreams on my bed at 
night were pleasant, and in the morning my fancies were bright, 
... I tore down its ruins; in order to extend its area I tore it all 
down. I erected a building the site of whose structure was fifty 
tibki in extent. I raised a terrace; but I was afraid before the shrines 
of the great gods my lords, and did not raise that structure very 
high. In a good month, on a favorable day, I put in its foundations 
upon that terrace, and laid its brickwork. I emptied wine of ses- 
ame and wine of grapes upon its cellar, and poured them also 
upon its earthen wall. In order to build that harem the people of 


my land hauled its bricks there in wagons of Elam which I had car- 
ried away as spoil by the command of the gods. I made the kings 
of Arabia who had violated their treaty with me, and whom I had 
captured alive in battle with my own hands, carry baskets and 
(wear) workmen's caps in order to build that harem. . . . They 
spent their days in moulding its bricks and performing forced 
service for it to the playing of music. With joy and rejoicing I 
built it from its foundations to its roof. I made more room in it 
than before, and made the work upon it splendid. I laid upon it 
long beams of cedar, which grew upon Sirara and Lebanon. I 
covered doors of liaru-wood, whose odor is pleasant, with a sheath 
of copper, and hung them in its doorways. ... I planted around 
it a grove of all kinds of trees, and . . . fruits of every kind. I 
finished the work of its construction, offered splendid sacrifices 
to the gods my lords, dedicated it with joy and rejoicing, and 
entered therein under a splendid canopy. 76 


The last days of a king Sources of Assyrian decay The fall 

of Nineveh 

Nevertheless the "Great King, the mighty King, the King of the 
World, the King of Assyria" complained in his old age of the misfortunes 
that had come to his lot. The last tablet bequeathed us by his wedge 
raises again the questions of Ecclesiastes and Job: 

I did well unto god and man, to dead and living. Why have sick- 
ness and misery befallen me? I cannot do away with the strife in 
my country and the dissensions in my family; disturbing scandals 
oppress me always. Illness of mind and flesh bow me down; with 
cries of woe I bring my days to an end. On the day of the city 
god, the day of the festival, I am wretched; death is seizing hold 
upon me, and bears me down. With lamentation and mourning I 
wail day and night, I groan, "O God! grant even to one who is 
impious that he may see thy light!" 77 * 

* Diodorus-how reliably we cannot say pictures the King as rioting away his years in 
feminine comforts and gcndcrlcss immorality, and credits him with composing his own 
reckless epitaph: 

Knowing full well that thou wcrt mortal born, 

Thy heart lift up, take thy delight in feasts; 


We do not know how Ashurbanipal died; the story dramatized by 
Byron that he set fire to his own palace and perished in the flames rests 
on the authority of the marvel-loving Ctesias," and may be merely legend. 
His death was in any case a symbol and an omen; soon Assyria too was to 
die, and from causes of which Ashurbanipal had been a part. For the 
economic vitality of Assyria had been derived too rashly from abroad; it 
depended upon profitable conquests bringing in riches and trade; at any 
moment it could be ended with a decisive defeat. Gradually the qualities 
of body and character that had helped to make the Assyrian armies in- 
vincible were weakened by the very victories that they won; in each vic- 
tory it was the strongest and bravest who died, while the infirm and cau- 
tious survived to multiply their kind; it was a dysgenic process that per- 
haps made for civilization by weeding out the more brutal types, but 
undermined the biological basis upon which Assyria had risen to power. 
The extent of her conquests had helped to weaken her; not only had 
they depopulated her fields to feed insatiate Mars, but they had brought 
into Assyria, as captives, millions of destitute aliens who bred with the 
fertility of the hopeless, destroyed all national unity of character and 
blood, and became by their growing numbers a hostile and disintegrating 
force in the very midst of the conquerors. More and more the army 
itself was filled by these men of other lands, while semi-barbarous maraud- 
ers harassed every border, and exhausted the resources of the country in 
an endless defense of its unnatural frontiers. 

Ashurbanipal died in 626 B.C. Fourteen years later an army of Baby- 
lonians under Nabopolassar united with an army of Medes under Cyax- 
ares and a horde of Scythians from the Caucasus, and with amazing ease 
and swiftness captured the citadels of the north. Nineveh was laid waste 
as ruthlessly and completely as her kings had once ravaged Susa and 
Babylon; the city was put to the torch, the population was slaughtered or 
enslaved, and the palace so recently built by Ashurbanipal was sacked and 
destroyed. At one blow Assyria disappeared from history. Nothing 

When dead no pleasure more is thine. Thus I, 

Who once o'er mighty Ninus ruled, am naught 

But dust. Yet these are mine which gave me joy 

In life the food I ate, my wantonness, 

And love's delights. But all those other things 

Men deem felicities are left behind." 

Perhaps there is no inconsistency between this mood and that pictured in the text; the 
one may have been the medical preliminary to the other. 


remained of her except certain tactics and weapons of war, certain voluted 
capitals of semi-"Ionic" columns, and certain methods of provincial ad- 
ministration that passed down to Persia, Macedon and Rome. The Near 
East remembered her for a while as a merciless unifier of a dozen lesser 
states; and the Jews recalled Nineveh vengefully as "the bloody city, 
full of lies and robbery." 80 In a little while all but the mightiest of the 
Great Kings were forgotten, and all their royal palaces were in ruins 
under the drifting sands. Two hundred years after its capture, Xeno- 
phon's Ten Thousand marched over the mounds that had been Nineveh, 
and never suspected that these were the site of the ancient metropolis that 
had ruled half the world. Not a stone remained visible of all the temples 
with which Assyria's pious warriors had sought to beautify their greatest 
capital. Even Ashur, the everlasting god, was dead. 


A Motley of Nations 


The ethnic scene Mitannians Hittites Armenians Scythians- 
Phrygians The Divine Mother Lydians Crcssus Coin- 
ageCroesus, Solon and Cyrus 

TO a distant and yet discerning eye the Near East, in the days of 
Nebuchadrezzar, would have seemed like an ocean in which vast 
swarms of human beings moved about in turmoil, forming and dissolving 
groups, enslaving and being enslaved, eating and being eaten, killing and 
getting killed, endlessly. Behind and around the great empires Egypt, 
Babylonia, Assyria and Persia flowered this medley of half nomad, half 
settled tribes: Cimmerians, Cilicians, Cappadocians, Bithynians, Ashkanians, 
Mysians, Maeonians, Carians, Lycians, Pamphylians, Pisidians, Lycaonians, 
Philistines, Amorites, Canaanitcs, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites and a 
hundred other peoples each of which felt itself the center of geography 
and history, and would have marveled at the ignorant prejudice of an 
historian who would reduce them to a paragraph. Thoughont the history 
of the Near East such nomads were a peril to the more settled kingdoms 
which they almost surrounded; periodically droughts would fling them 
upon these richer regions, necessitating frequent wars, and perpetual 
readiness for war. 1 Usually the nomad tribe survived the settled kingdom, 
and overran it in the end. The world is dotted with areas where once 
civilization flourished, and where nomads roam again. 

In this seething ethnic sea certain minor states took shape, which, even 
if only as conductors, contributed their mite to the heritage of the race. 
The Mitannians interest us not as the early antagonists of Egypt in the 
Near East, but as one of the first Indo-European peoples known to us in 
Asia, and as the worshipers of gods Mithra, Indra and Varuna whose pas- 



sage to Persia and India helps us to trace the movements of what was once 
so conveniently called the "Aryan" race.* 

The Hittites were among the most powerful and civilized of the early 
Indo-European peoples. Apparently they had come down across the Bos- 
phorus, the Hellespont, the ^Egean or the Caucasus, and had established 
themselves as a ruling military caste over the indigenous agriculturists of 
that mountainous peninsula, south of the Black Sea, which we know as Asia 
Minor. Towards 1800 B.C. we find them settled near the sources of the 
Tigris and the Euphrates; thence they spread their arms and influence into 
Syria, and gave mighty Egypt some indignant concern. We have seen how 
Rameses II was forced to make peace with them, and to acknowledge the 
Hittite king as his equal. At Boghaz Keuit they made their capital and 
centered their civilization: first on the iron which they mined in the moun- 
tains bordering on Armenia, then on a code of laws much influenced by 
Hammurabi's, and finally on a crude esthetic sense which drove them to 
carve vast and awkward figures in the round, or upon the living rock.J 
Their language, recently deciphered by Hronzny from the ten thousand clay 
tablets found at Boghaz Keui by Hugo Winckler, was largely of Indo-Euro- 
pean affinity; its declensional and conjugational forms closely resembled 
those of Latin and Greek, and some of its simpler words are visibly akin to 
English. The Hittites wrote a pictographic script in their own queer 
way one line from left to right, the next from right to left, and so forth 
alternately. They learned cuneiform from the Babylonians, taught Crete 

* The word Aryan first appears in the Harri, one of the tribes of Mitanni. In general 
it was the self-given appellation of peoples living near, or coming from, the shores of the 
Caspian Sea. The term is properly applied today chiefly to the Mitannians, Hittites, 
Mcdes, Persians, and Vedic Hindus i.e., only to the eastern branch of the Indo-European 
peoples, whose western branch populated Europe.* 

tEast of the Halys River. Nearby, across the river, is Angora, capital of Turkey, and 
lineal descendant of Ancyra, the ancient metropolis of Phrygia. We may be helped to a 
cultural perspective by realizing that the Turks, whom we call "terrible," note with pride 
the antiquity of their capital, and mourn the domination of Europe by barbaric infidels. 
Every point is the center of the world. 

t Baron von Oppenheim unearthed at Tell Halaf and elsewhere many relics of Hittite 
art, which he has collected into his own museum, an abandoned factory in Berlin. Most 
of these remains are dated by their finder about 1200 B.C.; some of them he attributes pre- 
cariously to the fourth millennium B.C. The collection includes a group of lions crudely 
but powerfully carved in stone, a bull in fine black stone, and figures of the Hittite triad 
of godsthe Sun-god, the Weather-god, and Hepat, the Hittite Ishtar. One of the most 
impressive of the figures is an ungainly Sphinx, before which is a stone vessel intended 
for offerings. 

Cf., e.g., vadar, water; ezza, eat; uga y I (Latin ego); tug, thee; vesh, we; mu, me; 
kuish, who (Lat. quis)\ quit, what (Lat. quid), etc.' 


the use of the clay tablet for writing, and seem to have mingled with the 
ancient Hebrews intimately enough to have given them their sharply) 
aquiline nose, so that this Hebraic feature must now be considered strictly l 
"Aryan."* Some of the surviving tablets are vocabularies giving Sumerian, 
Babylonian and Hittite equivalents; others are administrative enactments re- 
vealing a close-knit military and monarchical state; others contain two hun- 
dred fragments of a code of laws, including price-regulations for commodi- 
ties." The Hittites disappeared from history almost as mysteriously as they 
entered it; one after another their capitals decayed perhaps because their 
great advantage, iron, became equally accessible to their competitors. The 
last of these capitals, Carchemish, fell before the Assyrians in 717 B.C. 

Just north of Assyria was a comparatively stable nation, known to the 
Assyrians as Urartu, to the Hebrews as Ararat, and to later times as Ar- 
menia. For many centuries, beginning before the dawn of recorded history 
and continuing till the establishment of Persian rule over all of western 
Asia, the Armenians maintained their independent government, their char- 
acteristic customs and arts. Under their greatest king, Argistis II (ca. 708 
B.C.), they grew rich by mining iron and selling it to Asia and Greece; they 
achieved a high level of prosperity and comfort, of culture and manners; 
they built great edifices of stone, and made excellent vases and statuettes. 
They lost their wealth in costly wars of offense and defense against Assyria, 
and passed under Persian domination in the days of the all-conquering Cyrus. 

Still farther north, along the shores of the Black Sea, wandered the 
Scythians, a horde of warriors half Mongol and half European, ferocious 
bearded giants who lived in wagons, kept their women in purdah seclusion, 8 
rode bareback on wild horses, fought to live and lived to fight, drank the 
blood of their enemies and used the scalps as napkins, 7 weakened Assyria 
with repeated raids, swept through western Asia (ca. 630-610 B.C.), de- 
stroying and killing everything and everyone in their path, advanced to 
the very cities of the Egyptian Delta, were suddenly decimated by a mys- 
terious disease, and were finally overcome by the Medes and driven back 
to their northern haunts. 8 * We catch from such a story another glimpse of 
the barbaric hinterland that hedged in every ancient state. 

* Hippocrates tells us that "their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw 
the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their 
virginity until they have killed three of their enemies. ... A woman who takes to her- 
self a husband no longer rides, unless she is compelled to do so by a general ex- 
pedition. They have no right breast; for while they are yet babies their mothers 
make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to 
the right breast and cauterize it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and 
bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm." 9 


Towards the end of the ninth century B.C. a new power arose in Asia 
Minor, inheriting the remains of the Hittite civilization, and serving as a 
cultural bridge to Lydia and Greece. The legend by which the Phrygians 
tried to explain for curious historians the foundation of their kingdom 
was symbolical of the rise and fall of nations. Their first king, Gordios, 
was a simple peasant whose sole inheritance had been a pair of oxen;* 
their next king, his son Midas, was a spendthrift who weakened the state 
by that greed and extravagance which posterity represented through the 
legend of his plea to the gods that he might turn anything to gold by 
touching it. The plea was so well heard that everything Midas touched 
turned to gold, even the food that he put to his lips; he was on the verge 
of starvation when the gods allowed him to cleanse himself of the curse 
by bathing in the river Pactolus which has given up grains of gold 
ever since. 

The Phrygians made their way into Asia from Europe, built a capital 
at Ancyra, and for a time contended with Assyria and Egypt for mastery 
of the Near East. They adopted a native mother-goddess, Ma, rechristened 
her Cybele from the mountains (kybcla) in which she dwelt, and wor- 
shiped her as the great spirit of the untilled earth, the personification of 
all the reproductive energies of nature. They took over from the aborig- 
ines the custom of serving the goddess through sacred prostitution, and 
accepted into their mythical lore the story of how Cybele had fallen 
in love with the young god Atys,t and had compelled him to emasculate 
himself in her honor; hence the priests of the Great Mother sacrificed 
their manhood to her upon entering the service of her temples. 11 These 
barbarous legends fascinated the imagination of the Greeks, and entered 
profoundly into their mythology and their literature. The Romans offi- 
cially adopted Cybele into their religion, and some of the orgiastic rites 
that marked the Roman carnivals were derived from the wild rituals with 
which the Phrygians annually celebrated the death and resurrection of the 
handsome Atys. 1 * 

*The oracle of Zeus had commanded the Phrygians to choose as king the first man 
who rode up to the temple in a wagon; hence the selection of Gordios. The new king 
dedicated his car to the god; and a new oracle predicted that the man who should suc- 
ceed in untying the intricate bark knot that bound the yoke of the wagon to the pole 
would rule over all Asia. Alexander, story goes, cut the "Gordian knot" with a blow of 
his sword. 

t Atys, we arc informed, was miraculously born of the virgin-goddess Nana, who con- 
ceived him by placing a pomegranate between her breasts. 10 


The ascendency of Phrygia in Asia Minor was ended with the rise 
of the new kingdom of Lydia. King Gyges established it with its capital 
at Sardis; Alyattes, in a long reign of forty-nine years, raised it to pros- 
perity and power; Croesus (570-546 B.C.) inherited and enjoyed it, ex- 
panded it by conquest to include nearly all of Asia Minor, and then sur- 
rendered it to Persia. By generous bribes to local politicians he brought 
one after another of the petty states that surrounded him into subjection 
to Lydia, and by pious and unprecedented hecatombs to local deities 
he placated these subject peoples and persuaded them that he was the 
darling of their gods. Croesus further distinguished himself by issuing 
gold and silver coins of admirable design, minted and guaranteed at their 
face value by the state; and though these were not, as long supposed, the 
first official coins in history, much less the invention of coinage,* never- 
theless they set an example that stimulated trade throughout the Mediter- 
ranean world. Men had for many centuries used various metals as stand- 
ards of value and exchange; but these, whether copper, bronze, iron, 
silver or gold, had in most countries been measured by weight or other 
tests at each transaction. It was no small improvement that replaced such 
cumbersome tokens with a national currency; by accelerating the passage 
of goods from those that could best produce them to those that most 
effectively demanded them it added to the wealth of the world, and pre- 
pared for mercantile civilizations like those of Ionia and Greece, in which 
the proceeds of commerce were to finance the achievements of literature 
and art. 

Of Lydian literature nothing remains; nor docs any specimen survive 
of the preciously wrought vases of gold, iron and silver that Croesus 
offered to the conquered gods. The vases found in Lydian tombs, and 
now housed in the Louvre, show how the artistic leadership of Egypt 
and Babylonia was yielding, in the Lydia of Croesus' day, to the growing 
influence of Greece; their delicacy of execution rivals their fidelity to 
nature. When Herodotus visited Lydia he found its customs almost in- 
distinguishable from those of his fellow-Greeks; all that remained to sep- 
arate them, he tells us, was the way in which the daughters of the com- 
mon people earned their dowriesby prostitution. 18 

The same great gossip is our chief authority for the dramatic story 
of Croesus's fall. Herodotus recounts how Croesus displayed his riches 

* Older coins have been found at Mohenjo-daro, in India (2900 B.C.); and we have seen 
how Sennacherib (ca. 700 B.C.) minced half-shekel pieces. 


to Solon, and then asked him whom he considered the happiest of men. 
Solon, after naming three individuals who were all dead, refused to call 
Croesus happy, on the ground that there was no telling what misfortunes 
the morrow would bring him. Croesus dismissed the great legislator as a 
fool, turned his hand to plotting against Persia, and suddenly found the 
hosts of Cyrus at his gates. According to the same historian the Persians 
won through the superior stench of their camels, which the horses of 
the Lydian cavalry could not bear; the horses fled, the Lydians were 
routed, and Sardis fell. Croesus, according to ancient tradition, prepared 
a great funeral pyre, took his place on it with his wives, his daughters, 
and the noblest young men among the surviving citizens, and ordered his 
eunuchs to burn himself and them to death. In his last moments he re- 
membered the words of Solon, mourned his own blindness, and re- 
proached the gods who had taken all -his hecatombs and paid him with 
destruction. Cyrus, if we may follow Herodotus," took pity on him, 
ordered the flames to be extinguished, carried Croesus with him to Persia, 
and made him one of his most trusted counsellors. 


The antiquity of the Arabs Phoenicians Their world trade 

Their circumnavigation of Africa Colonies Tyre and 

Sidon Deities The dissemination of the alphabet 

Syria Astarte The death and resurrection of 

AdoniThe sacrifice of children 


If we attempt to mitigate the confusion of tongues in the Near East 
by distinguishing the northern peoples of the region as mostly Indo- 
European, and the central and southern peoples, from Assyria to Arabia, 
as Semitic,* we shall have to remember that reality is never so clear-cut 
in its differences as the rubrics under which we dismember it for neat 
handling. The Near East was divided by mountains and deserts into 
localities naturally isolated and therefore naturally diverse in language and 
traditions; but not only did trade tend to assimilate language, customs and 
arts along its main routes (as, for example, along the great rivers from 
Nineveh and Carchemish to the Persian Gulf), but the migrations and 
imperial deportations of vast communities so mingled stocks and speech 

* The term Semite is derived from Shem, legendary son of Noah, on the theory that 
Shem was the ancestor of all the Semitic peoples. 


that a certain homogeneity of culture accompanied the heterogeneity of 
blood. By "Indo-European," then, we shall mean predominantly Indo- 
European; by "Semitic" we shall mean predominantly Semitic: no strain 
was unmixed, no culture was left uninfluenced by its neighbors or its 
enemies. We are to vision the vast area as a scene of ethnic diversity and 
flux, in which now the Indo-European, now the Semitic, stock for a 
time prevailed, but only to take on the general cultural character of the 
whole. Hammurabi and Darius I were separated by differences of blood 
and religion, and by almost as many centuries as those that divide us from 
Christ; nevertheless, when we examine the two great kings we perceive 
that they are essentially and profoundly akin. 

The fount and breeding-place of the Semites was Arabia. Out of that 
arid region, where the "man-plant" grows so vigorously and hardly any 
other plant will grow at all, came, in a succession of migrations, wave 
after wave of sturdy, reckless stoics no longer supportable by desert and 
oases, and bound to conquer for themselves a place in the shade. Those 
who remained behind created the civilization of Arabia and the Bedouin: 
the patriarchal family, the stern morality of obedience, the fatalism of 
a hard environment, and the ignorant courage to kill their own daughters 
as offerings to the gods. Nevertheless they did not take religion very 
much to heart till Mohammed came, and they neglected the arts and re- 
finements of life as effeminate devices for degenerate men. For a time they 
controlled the trade with the further East: their ports at Cannch and Aden 
were heaped with the riches of the Indies, and their patient caravans 
carried these goods precariously overland to Phoenicia and Babylon. In 
the interior of their broad peninsula they built cities, palaces and temples, 
but they did not encourage foreigners to come and see them. For thou- 
sands of years they have lived their own life, kept their own customs, 
kept their own counsel; they are the same today as in the time of Cheops 
and Gudea; they have seen a hundred kingdoms rise and fall about them; 
and their soil is still jealously theirs, guarded from profane feet and alien 

Who, now, were those Phoenicians who have so often been spoken 
of in these pages, whose ships sailed every sea, whose merchants bar- 
gained in every port? The historian is abashed before any question of 
origins: he must confess that he knows next to nothing about either the 
early or the late history of this ubiquitous, yet elusive, people." We do 
not know whence they came, nor when; we are not certain that they 


were Semites;* and as to the date of their arrival on the Mediterranean 
coast, we cannot contradict the statement of the scholars of Tyre, who 
told Herodotus that their ancestors had come from the Persian Gulf, and 
had founded the city in what we should call the twenty-eighth century 
before Christ." Even their name is problematical: the phoinix from which 
the Greeks coined it may mean the red dye that Tyrian merchants sold, 
or a palm-tree that flourishes along the Phoenician coast. That coast, a 
narrow strip a hundred miles long and only ten miles wide, between Syria 
and the sea, was almost all of Phoenicia; the people never thought it worth 
while to settle in the Lebanon hills behind them, or to bring these ranges 
under their rule; they were content that this beneficent barrier should 
protect them from the more warlike nations whose goods they carried 
out into all the lanes of the sea. 

Those mountains compelled them to live on the water. From the Sixth 
Egyptian Dynasty onward they were the busiest merchants of the ancient 
world; and when they liberated themselves from Egypt (ca. 1200 B.C.) 
they became masters of the Mediterranean. They themselves manufac- 
tured various forms and objects of glass and metal; they made enameled 
vases, weapons, ornaments and jewelry; they had a monopoly of the purple 
dye which they extracted from the molluscs abounding along their 
shores; 18 and the women of Tyre were famous for the gorgeous colors 
with which they stained the products of their deft needlework. These, 
and the exportable surplus of India and the Near East cereals, wines, 
textiles and precious stones they shipped to every city of the Mediter- 
ranean far and near, bringing back, in return, lead, gold and iron from 
the south shores of the Black Sea, copper, cypress and corn from Cyprus, t 
ivory from Africa, silver from Spain, tin from Britain, and slaves from 
everywhere. They were shrewd traders; they persuaded the natives of 
Spain to give them, in exchange for a cargo of oil, so great a quantity of 
silver that the holds of their ships could not contain it whereupon the 
subtle Semites replaced the iron or stones in their anchors with silver, and 
sailed prosperously away. 10 Not satisfied with this, they enslaved the na- 
tives, and made them work for long hours in the mines for a subsistence 
wage.J Like all early voyagers, and some old languages, they made scant 

* Autran has argued that they were a branch of the Cretan civilization." 
t Copper and cypress took their names from Cyprus. 

$ Cf. Gibbon: "Spain, by a very singular fatality, was the Peru and Mexico of the old 
world. The discovery of the rich western continent by the Phoenicians, and the oppres- 


distinction between trade and treachery, commerce and robbery; they 
stole from the weak, cheated the stupid, and were honest with the rest. 
Sometimes they captured ships on the high seas, and confiscated their 
cargoes and their crews; sometimes they lured curious natives into visiting 
the Phoenician vessels, and then sailed off with them to sell them as 
slaves. 21 They had much to do with giving the trading Semites of antiquity 
an evil reputation, especially with the early Greeks, who did the same 

Their low and narrow galleys, some seventy feet long, set a new style 
of design by abandoning the inward-curving bow of the Egyptian vessel, 
and turning it outward into a sharp point for cleaving wind or water, 
or the ships of the enemy. One large rectangular sail, hoisted on a mast 
fixed in the keel, helped the galley-slaves who provided most of the 
motive-power with their double bank of oars. On a deck above the 
rowers, soldiers stood on guard, ready for trade or war. These frail 
ships, having no compasses and drawing hardly five feet of water, 
kept cautiously near the shore, and for a long time dared not move during 
the night. Gradually the art of navigation developed to the point where 
the Phoenician pilots, guiding themselves by the North Star (or the 
Phoenician Star, as the Greeks called it), adventured into the oceans, 
and at last circumnavigated Africa, sailing down the cast coast first, and 
"discovering" the Cape of Good Hope some two thousand years before 
Vasco da Gama. "When autumn came," says Herodotus, "they went 
ashore, sowed the land, and waited for harvest; then, having reaped the 
corn, they put to sea again. When two years had thus passed, in the 
third, having doubled the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar), they arrived 
in Egypt." 23 What an adventure! 

At strategic points along the Mediterranean they established garrisons 
that grew in time into populous colonies or cities: at Cadiz, Carthage 
and Marseilles, in Malta, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, even in distant 
England. They occupied Cyprus, Melos and Rhodes. 84 They took the 
arts and sciences of Egypt, Crete and the Near East and spread them 
in Greece, Africa, Italy and Spain. They bound together the East and 

sion of the simple natives, who were compelled to labor in their own mines for the 
benefit of the strangers, form an exact type of the more recent history of Spanish 

* The Greeks, who for half a millennium were raiders and pirates, gave the name 
"Phoenician" to anyone addicted to sharp practices." 


the West in a commercial and cultural web, and began to redeem Europe 
from barbarism. 

Nourished by this trade, and skilfully governed by mercantile aristocra- 
cies too clever in diplomacy and finance to waste their fortunes in war, the 
cities of Phoenicia rose to a place among the richest and most powerful in 
the world. Byblos thought itself the oldest of all cities; the god El had 
founded it at the beginning of time, and to the end of its history it re- 
mained the religious capital of Phoenicia. Because papyrus was one of the 
principal articles in its trade, the Greeks took the name of the city as their 
word for bookbiblos and from their word for books named our Bible ta 

Some fifty miles to the south, also on the coast, lay Sidon; originally a 
fortress, it grew rapidly into a village, a town, a prosperous city; it con- 
tributed the best ships to Xerxes' fleet; and when later the Persians be- 
sieged and captured it, its proud leaders deliberately burned it to the 
ground, forty thousand inhabitants perishing in the conflagration." It was 
already rebuilt and flourishing when Alexander came, and some of its en- 
terprising merchants followed his army to India "for trafficking."" 8 

Greatest of the Phoenician cities was Tyre i.e., the rock built upon an 
island several miles off the coast. It, too, began as a fortress; but its splen- 
did harbor and its security from attack soon made it the metropolis of 
Phoenicia, a cosmopolitan bedlam of merchants and slaves from the whole 
Mediterranean world. Already in the ninth century B.C., Tyre had achieved 
affluence under King Hiram, friend of King Solomon; and by the time of 
Zechariah (ca. 520 B.C.), she had "heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold 
as the mire of the streets."" "The houses here," said Strabo, "have many 
stories, even more than the houses at Rome."* Its wealth and courage kept 
it independent until Alexander came. The young god saw in it a challenge 
to his omnipotence, and reduced it by building a causeway that turned the 
island into a peninsula. The success of Alexandria completed the ruin of 

Like every nation that feels the complexity of cosmic currents and the 
variety of human needs, Phoenicia had many gods. Each city had its Baal 
(i.e., Lord) or city-god, who was conceived as ancestor of the kings, and 
source of the soil's fertility; the corn, the wine, the figs and the flax were 
all the work of the holy Baal. The Baal of Tyre was called Melkarth; like 
Hercules, with whom the Greeks identified him, he was a god of strength, 
and accomplished feats worthy of a Miinchausen. Astarte was the Greek 
name of the Phoenician Ishtar; she had the distinction of being worshiped in 


some places as the goddess of a cold Artemisian chastity, and in others as 
the amorous and wanton deity of physical love, in which form she was 
identified by the Greeks with Aphrodite. As Ishtar-Mylitta received in sacri- 
fice the virginity of her girl-devotees at Babylon, so the women who hon- 
ored Astarte at Byblos had to give up their long tresses to her, or surrender 
themselves to the first stranger who solicited their love in the precincts of 
the temple. And as Ishtar had loved Tammuz, so Astarte had loved Adoni 
(i.e., Lord), whose death on the tusks of a boar was annually mourned at 
Byblos and Paphos (in Cyprus) with wailing and beating of the breast. 
Luckily Adoni rose from the dead as often as he died, and ascended to heav- 
en in the presence of his worshipers." Finally there was Moloch (i.e., King), 
the terrible god to whom the Phoenicians offered living children as burnt 
sacrifices; at Carthage, during a siege of the city (307 B.C.), two hundred 
boys of die best families were burned to death on the altar of this fiery 
divinity. 30 

Nevertheless the Phoenicians deserve some niche in the hall of civilized 
nations, for it was probably their merchants who taught the Egyptian 
alphabet to the nations of antiquity. Not the ecstasies of literature but 
the needs of commerce brought unity to the peoples of the Mediterranean; 
nothing could better illustrate a certain generative relation between 
commerce and culture. We do not know that the Phoenicians introduced 
this alphabet into Greece, though Greek tradition unanimously affirms 
it; 81 it is possible that Crete gave the alphabet to both the Phoenicians and 
the Greeks. 88 But it is more probable that the Phoenicians took letters 
where they took papyrus. About noo B.C. we find them importing 
papyrus from Egypt; 38 for a nation that kept and carried many accounts 
it was an inestimable convenience compared with the heavy clay tablets 
of Mesopotamia; and the Egyptian alphabet was likewise an immense 
improvement upon the clumsy syllabaries of the Near East. About 960 
B.C. King Hiram of Tyre dedicated to one of his gods a bronze cup en- 
graved with an alphabetic inscription; 84 and about 840 B.C. King Mesha 
of Moab announced his glory (on a stone now in the Louvre) in a 
Semitic dialect written from right to left in letters corresponding to 
those of the Phoenician alphabet. The Greeks reversed the facing of 
some of the letters, because they wrote from left to right; but essentially 
their alphabet was that which the Phoenicians had taught them, and 
which they were in turn to teach to Europe. These strange symbols 
are the most precious portion of our cultural heritage. 


The oldest examples of alphabetic writing known to us, however, appear 
not in Phoenicia but in Sinai. At Serabit-el-khadim, a little hamlet covering 
a site where anciently the Egyptians mined turquoise, Sir William Flinders 
Petrie found inscriptions in a strange language, dating back to an uncertain 
age, perhaps as early as 2500 B.C. Though these inscriptions have never been 
deciphered, it is apparent that they were written not in hieroglyphics, nor 
in syllabic cuneiform, but with an alphabet. 30 At Zapouna, in southern 
Syria, French archeologists discovered an entire library of clay tablets- 
some in hieroglyphic, some in a Semitic alphabetic script. As Zapouna seems 
to have been permanently destroyed about 1200 B.C., these tablets go back 
presumably to the thirteenth century B.C., 80 and suggest to us again how 
old civilization was in those centuries to which our ignorance ascribes its 

Syria lay behind Phoenicia, in the very lap of the Lebanon hills, gath- 
ering its tribes together loosely under the rule of that capital which still 
boasts that it is the oldest city of all, and still harbors Syrians hungry for 
liberty. For a time the kings of Damascus dominated a dozen petty 
nations about them, and successfully resisted the efforts of Assyria to make 
Syria one of her vassal states. The inhabitants of the city were Semitic 
merchants, who managed to garner wealth out of the caravan trade that 
passed through Syria's mountains and plains. Artisans and slaves worked 
for them, none too happily. We hear of masons organizing great unions, 
and inscriptions tell of a strike of bakers in Magnesia; across the centuries 
we sense the strife and busyness of an ancient Syrian town. 37 These 
artisans were skilful in shaping graceful pottery, in carving ivory and 
wood, in polishing gems, and in weaving stuffs of gay colors for the 
adornment of their women." 

Fashions, manners and morals in Damascus were very much as at 
Babylon, which was the Paris and arbiter elegantiarum of the ancient 
East. Religious prostitution flourished, for in Syria, as throughout western 
Asia, the fertility of the soil was symbolized in a Great Mother, or 
Goddess, whose sexual commerce with her lover gave the hint to all 
the reproductive processes and energies of nature; and the sacrifice of 
virginity at the temples was not only an offering to Astarte, but a par- 
ticipation with her in that annual self-abandonment which, it was hoped, 
would offer an irresistible suggestion to the earth, and insure the increase 
of plants, animals and men. 88 About the time of the vernal equinox the 
festival of the Syrian Astarte, like that of Cybele in Phrygia, was cele- 


brated at Hierapolis with a fervor bordering upon madness. The noise 
of flutes and drums mingled with the wailing of the women for Astarte's 
dead lord, Adoni; eunuch priests danced wildly, and slashed themselves 
with knives; at last many men, who had come merely as spectators, were 
overcome with the excitement, threw off their clothing, and emasculated 
themselves in pledge of lifelong service to the goddess. Then, in the dark 
of the night, the priests brought a mystic illumination to the scene, opened 
the tomb of the young god, and announced triumphantly that Adoni, 
the Lord, had risen from the dead. Touching the lips of the worshipers 
with balm, the priests whispered to them the promise that they, too, 
would some day rise from the grave. 40 

The other gods of Syria were not less bloodthirsty than Astarte. It is 
true that the priests recognized a general divinity, embracing all the gods, 
and called El or Ilu, like the Elohim of the Jews; but this calm abstraction 
was hardly noticed by the people who gave their worship to the Baal. 
Usually they identified this city-god with the sun, as they identified 
Astarte with the moon; and on occasions of great moment they offered 
him their own children in sacrifice, after the manner of the Phoenicians; 
the parents came to the ceremony dressed as for a festival, and the cries 
of their children burning in the lap of the god were drowned by the 
blaring of trumpets and the piping of flutes. Normally, however, a milder 
sacrifice sufficed; the priests slashed themselves until the altar was covered 
with their blood; or the child's foreskin was offered as a commutation 
for his life; or the priests condescended to accept a sum of money to be 
presented to the god in place of the prepuce. In some way the god had 
to be appeased and satisfied; for his worshipers had made him in the 
image and dream of themselves, and he had no great regard for human 
life, or womanly tears. 41 

Similar customs, varying only in name and detail, were practised by 
the Semitic tribes south of Syria, who filled the land with their confusion 
of tongues. It was forbidden the Jews to "make their children pass 
through the fire," but occasionally they did it none the less. 48 Abraham 
about to sacrifice Isaac, and Agamemnon sacrificing Iphigenia, were but 
resorting to an ancient rite in attempting to propitiate the gods with 
human blood. Mesha, King of Moab, sacrificed his eldest son by fire as 
a means of raising a siege; his prayer having been answered, and the 
sacrifice of his son having been accepted, he slaughtered seven thousand 
Israelites in gratitude. 43 Throughout this region, from the Sumerian days 


when the Amorites roamed the plains of Amurru (ca. -2800 B.C.) to the 
time when the Jews fell with divine wrath upon the Canaanites, and 
Sargon of Assyria captured Samaria, and Nebuchadrezzar captured Jeru- 
salem (597 B.C.), the valley of the Jordan was drenched periodically 
with fratricidal blood, and many Lords of Hosts rejoiced. These Moabites, 
Canaanites, Amorites, Edomites, Philistines and Aramaeans hardly enter 
into the cultural record of mankind. It is true that the fertile Aramaeans, 
spreading everywhere, made their language the lingua franca of the Near 
East, and that the alphabetic script which they had learned either from 
the Egyptians or the Phoenicians replaced the cuneiform and syllabaries 
of Mesopotamia, first as a mercantile, then as a literary, medium, and 
became at last the tongue of Christ and the alphabet of the Arabs today. 44 
But time preserves their names not so much because of their own accom- 
plishments as because they played some pan on the tragic stage of Pales- 
tine. We must study, in greater detail than their neighbors, these numer- 
ically and geographically insignificant Jews, who gave to the world one 
of its greatest literatures, two of its most influential religions, and so many 
of its prof oundest men. 




Palestine Climate Prehistory Abraham's people The 
Jews in Egypt The Exodus The conquest of Canaan 

A BUCKLE or a Montesquieu, eager to interpret history through 
geography, might have taken a handsome leaf out of Palestine. 
One hundred and fifty miles from Dan on the north to Beersheba on the 
south, twenty-five to eighty miles from the Philistines on the west to 
the Syrians, Aramaeans, Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites on the east- 
one would not expect so tiny a territory to play a major role in history, 
or to leave behind it an influence greater than that of Babylonia, Assyria 
or Persia, perhaps greater even than that of Egypt or Greece. But it 
was the fortune and misfortune of Palestine that it lay midway between 
the capitals of the Nile and those of the Tigris and Euphrates. This cir- 
cumstance brought trade to Judea, and it brought war; time and again 
the harassed Hebrews were compelled to take sides in the struggle of the 
empires, to pay tribute or be overrun. Behind the Bible, behind the 
plaintive cries of the psalmists and the prophets for help from the sky, 
lay this imperiled place of the Jews between the upper and nether mill- 
stones of Mesopotamia and Egypt. 

The climatic history of the land tells us again how precarious a thing 
civilization is, and how its great enemies barbarism and desiccation- 
are always waiting to destroy it. Once Palestine was "a land flowing 
with milk and honey," as many a passage in the Pentateuch describes it. 1 
Josephus, in the first century after Christ, still speaks of it as "moist 
enough for agriculture, and very beautiful. They have abundance of 
trees, and are full of autumn fruits both wild and cultivated. . . . They 
are not naturally watered by many rivers, but derive their chief moisture 
from rain, of which they have no want."" In ancient days the spring rains 
that fed the land were stored in cisterns or brought back to the surface 
by a multitude of wells, and distributed over the country by a network 



of canals; this was the physical basis of Jewish civilization. The soil, so 
nourished, produced barley, wheat and corn, the vine throve on it, and 
trees bore olives, figs, dates or other fruits on every slope. When war 
came and devastated these artifically fertile fields, or when some con- 
queror exiled to distant regions the families that had cared for them, 
the desert crept in eagerly, and in a few years undid the work of genera- 
tions. We cannot judge the fruitfulness of ancient Palestine from the 
barren wastes and timid oases that confronted the brave Jews who in 
our own time returned to their old home after eighteen centuries of 
exile, dispersion and suffering. 

History is older in Palestine than Bishop Ussher supposed. Neanderthal 
remains have been unearthed near the Sea of Galilee, and five Neander- 
thal skeletons were recently discovered in a cave near Haifa; it appears 
likely that the Mousterian culture which flourished in Europe about 40,000 
B.C. extended to Palestine. At Jericho neolithic floors and hearths have been 
exhumed that carry back the history of the region down to a Middle 
Bronze Age (2000-1600 B.C.), in which the towns of Palestine and Syria 
had accumulated such wealth as to invite conquest by Egypt. In the fif- 
teenth century before Christ Jericho was a well-walled city, ruled by kings 
acknowledging the suzerainty of Egypt; the tombs of these kings, ex- 
cavated by the Garstang Expedition, contained hundreds of vases, funerary 
offerings, and other objects indicating a settled life at Jericho in the time 
of the Hyksos domination, and a fairly developed civilization in the days 
of Hatshcpsut and Thutmose III. 8 It becomes apparent that the different 
dates at which we begin the history of divers peoples are merely the marks 
of our ignorance. The Tell-el-Amarna letters carry on the general picture 
of Palestinian and Syrian life almost to the entrance of the Jews into 
the valley of the Nile. It is probable, though not. certain, that the "Habiru" 
spoken of in this correspondence were Hebrews.* 4 

The Jews believed that the people of Abraham had come from Ur in 
Sumeria, B and had settled in Palestine (ca. 2200 B.C.) a thousand years 

* The discoveries here summarized have restored considerable credit to those chapters 
of Genesis that record the early traditions of the Jews. In its outlines, and barring 
supernatural incidents, the story of the Jews as unfolded in the Old Testament has stood 
the test of criticism and archeology; every year adds corroboration from documents, 
monuments, or excavations. E.g., potsherds unearthed at Tel Ad-Duweir in 1935 bore 
Hebrew inscriptions confirming pan of the narrative of the Books of Kings. 4 * We must 
accept the Biblical account provisionally until it is disproved. Cf. Pctric, Egypt and 
Israel, London, 1925, p. 108. 

CHAP. Xn)" JUDEA 301 

or more before Moses; and that the conquest of the Canaanites was 
merely a capture by the Hebrews of the land promised them by their 
God. The Amraphael mentioned in Genesis (xiv, i ) as "King of Shinar 
in those days" was probably Amarpal, father of Hammurabi, and his 
predecessor on the throne of Babylon. There are no direct references 
in contemporary sources to either the Exodus or the conquest of Canaan; 7 
and the only indirect reference is the stele erected by Pharaoh Merneptah 
(ca. 1225 B.C.), part of which reads as follows: 

The kings arc overthrown, saying "Salam!" . . . 

Wasted is Tehenu, 

The Hittite land is pacified, 

Plundered is Canaan, with every evil, ... 

Israel is desolated, her seed is not; 

Palestine has become a widow for Egypt, 

All lands are united, they are pacified; 

Every one that is turbulent is bound by King Merneptah.* 

This does not prove that Merneptah was the Pharaoh of the Exodus; 
it proves little except that Egyptian armies had again ravaged Palestine. 
We cannot tell when the Jews entered Egypt, nor whether they came 
to it as freemen or as slaves.* We may take it as likely that the immi- 
grants were at first a modest number, 11 and that the many thousands of 
Jews in Egypt in Moses' time were the consequence of a high birth rate; 
as in all periods, "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied 
and grew." 13 The story of the "bondage" in Egypt, of the use of the 
Jews as slaves in great construction enterprises, their rebellion and escape 
or emigration to Asia, has many internal signs of essential truth, mingled, 
of course, with supernatural interpolations customary in all the historical 
writing of the ancient East. Even the story of Moses must not be rejected 
offhand; it is astonishing, however, that no mention is made of him by 
either Amos or Isaiah, whose preaching appears to have preceded by a 
century the composition of the Pentateuch, f 

* Perhaps they followed in the track of the Hyksos, whose Semitic rule in Egypt might 
have offered them some protection. 9 Pctrie, accepting the Bible figure of four hundred 
and thirty years for the stay of the Jews in Egypt, dates their arrival about 1650 B.C., 
their exit about 1220 B.C. 10 

tManetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century B.C., as reported by Josephus, 
tells us that the Exodus was due to the desire of the Egyptians to protect themselves 
from a plague that had broken out among the destitute and enslaved Jews, and that Moses 
was an Egyptian priest who went as a missionary among the Jewish "lepers," and gave 


When Moses led the Jews to Mt. Sinai he was merely following the 
route laid down by Egyptian turquoise-hunting expeditions for a thousand 
years before him. The account of the forty years' wandering in the 
desert, once looked upon as incredible, now seems reasonable enough in 
a traditionally nomadic people; and the conquest of Canaan was but one 
more instance of a hungry nomad horde falling upon a settled community. 
The conquerors killed as many as they could, and married the rest. 
Slaughter was unconfined, and (to follow the text) was divinely ordained 
and enjoyed; 19 Gideon, in capturing two cities, slew 120,000 men; only 
in the annals of the Assyrians do we meet again with such hearty killing, 
or easy counting. Occasionally, we are told, "the land rested from 
war."" Moses had been a patient statesman, but Joshua was only a plain, 
blunt warrior; Moses had ruled bloodlessly by inventing interviews with 
God, but Joshua ruled by the second law of naturethat the superior 
Killer survives. In this realistic and unsentimental fashion the Jews took 
their Promised Land. 


Race Appearance Language Organization Judges and 

kings SaulDavid SolomonHis 'wealth The Temple 

Rise of the social problem in Israel 

Of their racial origin we can only say vaguely that they were Semites, 
not sharply distinct or different from the other Semites of western Asia; 
it was their history that made them, not they who made their history. 
At their very first appearance they are already a mixture of many stocks- 
only by the most unbelievable virtue could a "pure" race have existed 

them laws of cleanliness modeled upon those of the Egyptian clergy. 13 Greek and Roman 
writers repeat this explanation of the Exodus; 14 but their anti-Semitic inclinations make 
them unreliable guides. One verse of the Biblical account supports Ward's interpretation 
of the Exodus as a labor strike: "And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do 
ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? Get you unto your burdens." 15 

Moses is an Egyptian rather than a Jewish name; perhaps it is a shorter form of 
Ahmose" Professor Garstang, of the Alarston Expedition of the University of Liverpool, 
claims to have discovered, in the royal tombs of Jericho, evidence that Moses was rescued 
(precisely in 1527 B.C.) by the then Princess, later the great Queen, Hatshepsut; that he 
was brought up by her as a court favorite, and fled from Egypt upon the accession of 
her enemy, Thutmosc III." He believes that the material found in these tombs confirms 
the story of the fall of Jericho (Joshua, vi); he dates this fall ca. 1400 B.C., and the 
Exodus ca. 1447 B.C." As this chronology rests upon the precarious dating of scarabs and 
pottery, it must be received with respectful scepticism. 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 303 

among the thousand ethnic cross-currents of the Near East. But the 
Jews were the purest of all, for they intermarried only very reluctantly 
with other peoples. Hence they have maintained their type with astonish- 
ing tenacity; the Hebrew prisoners on the Egyptian and Assyrian reliefs, 
despite the prejudices of the artist, are recognizably like the Jews of our 
own time: there, too, are the long and curved Hittite nose,* the projecting 
cheek-bones, the curly hair and beard; though one cannot see, under 
the Egyptian caricature, the scrawny toughness of body, the subtlety 
and obstinacy of spirit, that have characterized the Semites from the 
"stiff -necked" followers of Moses to the inscrutable Bedouins and trades- 
men of today. In the early years of their conquest they dressed in simple 
tunics, low-crowned hats or turban-like caps, and easy-going sandals; 
as wealth came they covered their feet with leather shoes, and their tunics 
with fringed kaftans. Their women, who were among the most beautiful 
of antiquity,! painted their cheeks and their eyes, wore all the jewelry 
they could get, and adopted to the best of their ability the newest styles 
from Babylon, Nineveh, Damascus or Tyre.* 1 

Hebrew was among the most majestically sonorous of all the languages 
of the earth. Despite its gutturals, it was full of masculine music; Renan 
described it as "a quiver full of arrows, a trumpet of brasses crashing 
through the air."" It did not differ much from the speech of the Phoeni- 
cians or the Moabites. The Jews used an alphabet akin to the Phoenician;* 
some scholars believe it to be the oldest alphabet known. 88 * They did not 
bother to write vowels, leaving these for the sense to fill in; even today 
the Hebrew vowels are mere points adorning the consonants, 

The invaders never formed a united nation, but remained for a long 
time as twelve more or less independent tribes, organized and ruled on 
the principles not of the state but of the patriarchal family. The oldest 
head of each family group participated in a council of elders which was 
the last court of law and justice in the tribe, and which cooperated with 
the leaders of other tribes only under the compulsion of dire emergency. 
The family was the most convenient economic unit in tilling the fields 
and tending the flocks; this was the source of its strength, its authority, 
and its political power. A measure of family communism softened the 
rigors of paternal discipline, and created memories to which the prophets 
harked back disconsolately in more individualistic days. For when, under 

* Cf. p. 287 above. 

t Cf . the story of Esther, and the descriptions of Rebecca, Bathsheba, etc. 


Solomon, industry came to the towns, and made the individual the new 
economic unit of production, the authority of the family weakened, even 
as today, and the inherent order of Jewish life decayed. 

The "judges" to whom the tribes occasionally gave a united obedience 
were not magistrates, but chieftains or warriors even when they were 
priests.* "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that 
which was right in his own eyes."* This incredibly Jeff ersonian condition 
gave way under the needs of war; the threat of domination by the Philis- 
tines brought a temporary unity to the tribes, and persuaded them to 
appoint a king whose authority over them should be continuous. The 
prophet Samuel warned them against certain disadvantages in rule by 
one man: 

And Samuel said, This will be the manner of the king that shall 
reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for him- 
self, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run 
before his chariots. And he will appoint them captains over thous- 
ands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, 
and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and 
instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be 
confectionarics, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will 
take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the 
best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your 
mcnscrvants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, 
and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth 
of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants. And yc shall cry out 
in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; 
and the Lord will not hear you in that day. 

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; 
and they said, Nay, but we shall have a king over us; that we also 
may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and 
go out before us, and fight our battles." 

Their first king, Saul, gave them good and evil instructively: fought 
their battles bravely, lived simply on his own estate at Gileah, pursued 
young David with murderous attentions, and was beheaded in flight from 
the Philistines. The Jews learned, then, at the first opportunity, that wars 
of succession are among the appanages of monarchy. Unless the little 
epic of Saul, Jonathan and David is merely a masterpiece of literary 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 305 

creation* (for there is no contemporary mention of these personalities 
outside the Bible), this first king, after a bloody interlude, was succeeded 
by David, heroic slayer of Goliath, tender lover of Jonathan and many 
maidens, half -naked dancer of wild dances, 88 seductive player of the harp, 
sweet singer of marvelous songs, and able king of the Jews for almost 
forty years. Here, so early in literature, is a character fully drawn, real 
with all the contradictory' passions of a living soul: as ruthless as his 
time, his tribe and his god, and yet as ready to pardon his enemies as 
Caesar was, or Christ; putting captives to death wholesale, like any 
Assyrian monarch; charging his son Solomon to "bring down to the grave 
with blood" the "hoar head" of old Shimei who had cursed him many 
years before; 90 taking Uriah's wife into his harem incontinently, and send- 
ing Uriah into the front line of battle to get rid of him; 30 accepting 
Nathan's rebuke humbly, but keeping the lovely Bathsheba none the less; 
forgiving Saul almost seventy times seven, merely taking his shield when 
he might have taken his life; sparing and supporting Mephiboshcth, a 
possible pretender to his throne; pardoning his ungrateful son Absalom, 
who had been caught in armed rebellion, and bitterly mourning that son's 
death in treasonable battle against his father ("O my son Absalom! my son, 
my son, Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my 
son!") 81 this is an authentic man, of full and varied elements, bearing 
within him all the vestiges of barbarism, and all the promise of civilization. 
On coming to the throne Solomon, for his peace of mind, slew all rival 
claimants. This did not disturb Yahveh, who, taking a liking to the young 
king, promised him wisdom beyond all men before or after him. 82 Per- 
haps Solomon deserves his reputation; for not only did he combine in 
his own life the epicurean enjoyment of every pleasure and luxury with 
a stoic fulfillment of all his obligations as a king,f but he taught his people 
the values of law and order, and lured them from discord and war to in- 
dustry and peace. He lived up to his name,| for during his long reign 
Jerusalem, w T hich David had made the capital, took advantage of this un- 
wonted quiet, and increased and multiplied its wealth. Originally the city 
had been built around a well; then it had been turned into a fortress 

* Like the jolly story of Samson, who burned the crops of the Philistines by letting 
loose in them three hundred foxes with torches tied to their tails, and, in the manner of 
some orators, slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass." 7 

t"He spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five."" 

^ Taken from Shalom, meaning peace. 

Mentioned in the Tell-el-Amarna tablets as Ursalimmu, or Urusalim. 


because of its exalted position above the plain; now, though it was not 
on the main lines of trade, it became one of the busiest markets of the 
Near East. By maintaining the good relations that David had established 
with King Hiram of Tyre, Solomon encouraged Phoenician merchants to 
direct their caravans through Palestine, and developed a profitable ex- 
change of agricultural products from Israel for the manufactured articles 
of Tyre and Sidon. He built a fleet of mercantile vessels on the Red 
Sea, and persuaded Hiram to use this new route, instead of Egypt, in 
trading with Arabia and Africa. 84 It was probably in Arabia that Solomon 
mined the gold and precious stones of "Ophir"; 85 probably from Arabia 
that the Queen of "Sheba" came to seek his friendship, and perhaps his 
aid.* 5 We are told that "the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one 
year was six hundred three score and six talents of gold"; 87 and though 
this could not compare with the revenues of Babylon, Nineveh or Tyre, 
it lifted Solomon to a place among the richest potentates of his time.* 

Some of this wealth he used for his private pleasure. He indulged 
particularly his hobby for collecting concubines though historians un- 
dramatically reduce his "seven hundred wives and three hundred concu- 
bines" to sixty and eighty. 90 Perhaps by some of these marriages he wished 
to strengthen his friendship with Egypt and Phoenicia; perhaps, like 
Rameses II, he was animated with a eugenic passion for transmitting his 
superior abilities. But most of his revenues went to the strengthening 
of his government and the beautification of his capital. He repaired the 
citadel around which the city had been built; he raised forts and stationed 
garrisons at strategic points of his realm to discourage both invasion and 
revolt. He divided his kingdom, for administrative purposes, into twelve 
districts which deliberately crossed the tribal boundaries; by this plan he 
hoped to lessen the clannish separatism of the tribes, and to weld them 
into one people. He failed, and Judea failed with him. To finance his 
government he organized expeditions to mine precious metals, and to 
import luxuries and strange delicacies e.g., "ivory, apes and peacocks" 40 
which could be sold to the growing bourgeoisie at high prices; he levied 

* On the value of the talent in the ancient Near East cf. p. 228 above. The value 
varied from time to time; but we should not be exaggerating it if we rated the talent, in 
Solomon's day, as having a purchasing power of over $10,000 in our contemporary money. 
Probably the Hebrew writer spoke in a literary way, and we must not take his figures 
too seriously. On the fluctuations of Hebrew currency cf. the Jewish Encyclopedia, 
articles "Numismatics" and "Shekel." Coinage, as distinct from rings or ingots of silver or 
gold, docs not appear in Palestine until about 650 B.C.** 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 307 

tolls upon all caravans passing through Palestine; he put a poll tax upon 
all his subject peoples, required contributions from every district except 
his own, and reserved to the state a monopoly of the trade in yarn, horses 
and chariots. 41 Josephus assures us that Solomon "made silver as plentiful 
in Jerusalem as stones in the street." 42 Finally he resolved to adorn the 
city with a new temple for Yahveh and a new palace for himself. 

We gather some sense of the turbulence of Jewish life from the fact 
that before this time there had been, apparently, no temple at all in 
Judea, not even in Jerusalem; the people had sacrificed to Yahveh in local 
sanctuaries or on crude altars in the hills. 43 Solomon called the more sub- 
stantial burghers together, announced his plans for a temple, pledged to 
it great quantities of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and precious stones 
from his own stores, and gently suggested that the temple would welcome 
contributions from the citizens. If we may believe the chronicler, they 
pledged for his use five thousand gold talents, ten thousand silver talents, 
and as much iron and brass as he might need; "and they with whom 
precious stones were found gave them to the treasure of the house of the 
Lord." 44 The site chosen was on a hill; the walls of the Temple rose, like 
the Parthenon, continuously from the rocky slopes.* The design was in 
the style that the Phoenicians had adopted from Egypt, with decorative 
ideas from Assyria and Babylon. The Temple was not a church, but a 
quadrangular enclosure composed of several buildings. The main struc- 
ture was of modest dimensions about one hundred and twenty-four feet 
in length, fifty-five in breadth, and fifty-two in height; half the length 
of the Parthenon, a quarter of the length of Chartres. 4 ' The Hebrews 
who came from all Judea to contribute to the Temple, and later to wor- 
ship in it, forgivably looked upon it as one of the wonders of the world; 
they had not seen the immensely greater temples of Thebes, Babylon and 
Nineveh. Before the main structure rose a "porch" some one hundred 
and eighty feet high, overlaid with gold. Gold was spread lavishly about, 
if we may credit our sole authority: on the beams of the main ceiling, 
on the posts, the doors and the walls, on the candelabra, the lamps, the 
snuffers, the spoons, the censers, and "a hundred basins of gold." Precious 
stones were inlaid here and there, and two gold-plated cherubim guarded 
the Ark of the Covenant. 47 The walls were of great square stones; the ceil- 
ing, posts and doors were of carved cedar and olive wood. Most of the 

* It is likely that the site of the Temple was that which is now covered by the Moslem 
shrine El-haram-esh-sharif ; but no remains of the Temple have been found. 4 " 


building materials were brought from Phoenicia, and most of the skilled 
work was done by artisans imported from Sidon and Tyre. 48 The unskilled 
labor was herded together by a ruthless corvee of 150,000 men, after the 
fashion of the time." 

So for seven years the Temple rose, to provide for four centuries a 
lordly home for Yahveh. Then for thirteen years more the artisans and 
people labored to build a much larger edifice, for Solomon and his harem. 
Merely one wing of it "the house of the forest of Lebanon" was four 
times as large as the Temple. 00 The walls of the main building were made of 
immense stone blocks fifteen feet in length, and were ornamented with statu- 
ary, reliefs and paintings in the Assyrian style. The palace contained halls 
for the royal reception of distinguished visitors, apartments for the King, 
separate quarters for the more important wives, and an arsenal as the final 
basis of government. Not a stone of the gigantic edifice survives, and its 
site is unknown/ 1 

Having established his kingdom, Solomon settled down to enjoy it. 
As his reign proceeded he paid less and less attention to religion and fre- 
quented his harem rather more than the Temple. The Biblical chroniclers 
reproach him bitterly for his gallantry in building altars to the exotic 
deities of his foreign wives, and cannot forgive his philosophical or per- 
haps political impartiality to the gods. The people admired his wisdom, 
but suspected in it a certain centripetal quality; the Temple and the palace 
had cost them much gold and blood, and were not more popular with 
them than the Pyramids had been with the workingmen of Egypt. The 
upkeep of these establishments required considerable taxation, and few 
governments have made taxation popular. When he died Israel was ex- 
hausted, and a discontented proletariat had been created whose labor 
found no steady employment, and whose sufferings were to transform 
the warlike cult of Yahveh into the almost socialistic religion of the 


Polytheism Yahveh Henothcism Character of the Hebrew re- 
ligionThe idea of sin Sacrifice Circumcision The priest- 
hood Strange gods 

Next to the promulgation of the "Book of Law," the building of the 
Temple was the most important event in the epic of the Jews. It not only 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 309 

gave Yahveh a home, but it gave Judea a spiritual center and capital, a 
vehicle of tradition, a memory to serve as a pillar of fire through centuries 
of wandering over the earth. And it played its part in lifting the Hebrew 
religion from a primitive polytheism to a faith intense and intolerant, but 
none the less one of the creative creeds of history. 

As they first entered the historic scene the Jews were nomad Bedouins 
who feared the djinns of the air, and worshiped rocks, cattle, sheep, and 
the spirits of caves and hills. 58 The cult of the bull, the sheep and the 
lamb was not neglected; Moses could never quite win his flock from 
adoration of the Golden Calf, for the Egyptian worship of the bull was 
still fresh in their memories, and Yahveh was for a long time symbolized 
in that ferocious vegetarian. In Exodus (xxxii, 25-28) we read how the 
Jews indulged in a naked dance before the Golden Calf, and how Moses 
and the Levites or priestly class slew three thousand of them in punish- 
ment of their idolatry.* Of serpent worship there are countless traces 
in early Jewish history, from the serpent images found in the oldest 
ruins, 54 to the brazen serpent made by Moses and worshiped in the Temple 
until the time of Hezekiah (ca. 720 B.C.). 06 As among so many peoples, 
the snake seemed sacred to the Jews, partly as a phallic symbol of virility, 
partly as typifying wisdom, subtlety and eternity literally because of its 
ability to make both ends meet." Baal, symbolized in conical upright 
stones much like the linga of the Hindus, was venerated by some, of the 
Hebrews as the male principle of reproduction, the husband of the land 
that he fertilized. 07 Just as primitive polytheism survived in the worship 
of angels and saints, and in the teraphim, or portable idols, that served as 
household gods, 58 so the magical notions rife in the early cults persisted 
to a late day despite the protests of prophets and priests. The people 
seem to have looked upon Moses and Aaron as magicians, 611 and to have 
patronized professional diviners and sorcerers. Divination was sought at 
times by shaking dice (Urim and Thuwmini) out of a box (ephod)-z 
ritual still used to ascertain the will of the gods. It is to the credit of the 
priests that they opposed these practices, and preached an exclusive reli- 
ance on the magic of sacrifice, prayer and contributions. 

Slowly the conception of Yahveh as the one national god took form, 
and gave to Jewish faith a unity and simplicity lifted up above the chaj 

* Other vestiges of animal worship among the ancient Hebrews may be 
Kings, xii, 28, and Ezekiel, viii, 10. Ahab, King of Israel, worshiped heifers i 
after Solomon." 


multiplicity of the Mesopotamian pantheons. Apparently the conquering 
Jews took one of the gods of Canaan, Yahu,* and re-created him in their 
own image as a stern, warlike, "stiff-necked" deity, with almost lovable 
limitations. For this god makes no claim to omniscience: he asks the Jews 
to identify their homes by sprinkling them with the blood of the sacrificial 
lamb, lest he should destroy their children inadvertently along with the 
first-born of the Egyptians; 81 he is not above making mistakes, of which 
man is his worst; he regrets, too late, that he created Adam, or allowed 
Saul to become king. He is, now and then, greedy, irascible, bloodthirtsy, 
capricious, petulant: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and 
will show mercy to whom I will show mercy."" He approves Jacob's 
use of deceit in revenging himself upon Laban; 88 his conscience is as flexible 
as that of a bishop in politics. He is talkative, and likes to make long 
speeches; but he is shy, and will not allow men to see anything of him 
but his hind parts." Never was there so thoroughly human a god. 

Originally he seems to have been a god of thunder, dwelling in the 
hills," and worshiped for the same reason that the youthful Gorki was a 
believer when it thundered. The authors of the Pentateuch, to whom 
religion was an instrument of statesmanship, formed this Vulcan into 
Mars, so that in their energetic hands Yahvch became predominantly an 
imperialistic, expansionist God of Hosts, who fights for his people as 
fiercely as the gods of the Iliad. "The Lord is a man of war," says 
"Moses";" and David echoes him: "He teacheth my hands to war."" 
Yahveh promises to "destroy all the people to whom" the Jews "shall 
come," and to drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite and the Hittite "by 
little and little"; 88 and he claims as his own all the territory conquered by 
the Jews. 8 * He will have no pacifist nonsense; he knows that even a 
Promised Land can be won, and held, only by the sword; he is a god of 
war because he has to be; it will take centuries of military defeat, political 
subjugation, and moral development, to transform him into the gentle 
and loving Father of Hillel and Christ. He is as vain as a soldier; he drinks 
up praise with a bottomless appetite, and he is anxious to display his 
prowess by drowning the Egyptians: "They shall know that I am the 
Lord when I have gotten me honor upon Pharaoh." 70 To gain successes 
for his people he commits or commands brutalities as repugnant to our 
taste as they were acceptable to the morals of the age; he slaughters whole 

* Among some Bronze Age (3000 B.C.) ruins found in Canaan in 1931 were pieces of 
pottery bearing the name of a Canaanite deity, Yah or Yahu." 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 311 

nations with the naive pleasure of a Gulliver fighting for Lilliput. Be- 
cause the Jews "commit whoredom" with the daughters of Moab he bids 
Moses: "Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the 
Lord against the sun"; 71 it is the morality of Ashurbanipal and Ashur. He 
offers to show mercy to those who love him and keep his commandments, 
but, like some resolute germ, he will punish children for the sins of their 
fathers, their grandfathers, even their great-great-grandfathers." He is 
so ferocious that he thinks of destroying all the Jews for worshiping the 
Golden Calf; and Moses has to argue with him that he should control 
himself. "Turn from thy fierce wrath," the man tells his god, "and 
repent of this evil against thy people"; and "the Lord repented of the 
evil which he thought to do unto his people." 78 Again Yahveh proposes 
to exterminate the Jews root and branch for rebelling against Moses, but 
Moses appeals to his better nature, and bids him think what people will 
say when they hear of such a thing. 74 He asks a cruel test human sacrifice 
of the bitterest sort from Abraham. Like Moses, Abraham teaches Yahveh 
the principles of morals, and persuades him not to destroy Sodom and 
Gomorrah if there shall be found fifty forty thirty twenty ten good 
men in those cities; 76 bit by bit he lures his god towards decency, and 
illustrates the manner in which the moral development of man compels 
the periodical re-creation of his deities. The curses with which Yahveh 
tHreatens his chosen people if they disobey him are models of vitupera- 
tion, and inspired those who burned heretics in the Inquisition, or ex- 
communicated Spinoza: 

Cursed shah thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the 
field. . . . Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of 
thy land. . . . Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and 
cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. . . . The Lord shall 
smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an in- 
flammation. . . . The Lord will smite thee with the botch of 
Egypt, and with the emerods (tumors), and with the scab, and 
with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. The Lord shall 
smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart. 
. . . Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written 
in the Book of this Law, them will the Lord bring upon thee, 
until thou be destroyed. 71 

Yahveh was not the only god whose existence was recognized by the 
Jews, or by himself; all that he asked, in the First Commandment, was that 


he should be placed above the rest. "I am a jealous god," he confesses, and 
he bids his followers "utterly overthrow" his rivals, and "quite break down 
their images." 77 The Jews, before Isaiah, seldom thought of Yahveh as the 
god of all tribes, even of all Hebrews. The Moabites had their god Che- 
mosh, to whom Naomi thought it right that Ruth should remain loyal; 78 
Baalzebub was the god of Ekron, Milcom was the god of Ammon: the eco- 
nomic and political separatism of these peoples naturally resulted in what 
we might call their theological independence. Moses sings, in his famous 
song, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?" 78 and Solomon 
says, "Great is our god above all gods." 80 Not only was Tammuz accepted 
as a real god by all but the most educated Jews, but his cult was at one time 
so popular in Judea that Ezekiel complained that the ritual wailing for Tam- 
muz' death could be heard in the Temple. 81 So distinct and autonomous were 
the Jewish tribes that even in the time of Jeremiah many of them had their 
own deities: "according to the number of thy cities arc thy gods, O 
Judah"; and the gloomy prophet goes on to protest against the worship of 
Baal and Moloch by his people. 83 With the growth of political unity un- 
der David and Solomon, and the centering of worship in the Temple at Jeru- 
salem, theology reflected history and politics, and Yahveh became the sole 
god of the Jews. Beyond this "hcnotheism"* they made no further prog- 
ress towards monotheism until the Prophets.t Even in the Yahvistic stage 
the Hebraic religion came closer to monotheism than any other pre-Prophet- 
ic faith except the ephemeral sun-worship of Ikhnaton. At least equal as 
sentiment and poetry to the polytheism of Babylonia and Greece, Judaism 
was immensely superior to the other religions of the time in majesty and 
power, in philosophic unity and grasp, in moral fervor and influence. 

This intense and sombre religion never took on any of the ornate ritual 
and joyous ceremonies that marked the worship of the Egyptian and Baby- 
lonian gods. A sense of human nothingness before an arbitrary deity dark- 
ened all ancient Jewish thought. Despite the efforts of Solomon to beau- 

* A clumsy but useful word coined by Max Miillcr to designate the worship of a god 
as supreme, combined with the explicit (as in India) or tacit (as in Judca) admission of 
other gods. 

tElisha, however, as far back as the ninth century B.C., announced one God: "I know 
that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." 83 It should be remembered that even 
modern monotheism is highly relative and incomplete. As the Jews worshiped a tribal 
god, so we worship a European god or an English, or a German, or an Italian, god; no 
moment of modesty comes to remind us that the abounding millions of India, China and 
Japan not to speak of the theologians of the jungle do not yet recognize the God of our 
Fathers. Not until the machine weaves all the earth into one economic web, and forces 
all the nations under one rule, will there be one god-for the earth. 


tify the cult of Yahveh with color and sound, the worship of this awful 
divinity remained for many centuries a religion of fear rather than of love. 
One wonders, in looking back upon these faiths, whether they brought as 
much consolation as terror to humanity. Religions of hope and love are a 
luxury of security and order; the need for striking fear into a subject or 
rebellious people made most primitive religions cults of mystery and dread. 
The Ark of the Covenant, containing the sacred scrolls of the Law, sym- 
bolized by its untouchability the character of the Jewish creed. When the 
pious Uzzah, to prevent the Ark from falling into the dust, caught it for 
a moment in his hands, "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, 
and God smote him there for his error; and there he died." 84 

The central idea in Judaic theology was that of sin. Never has another 
people been so fond of virtueunless it was those Puritans who seemed to 
step out of the Old Testament with no interruption of Catholic centuries. 
Since the flesh was weak and the Law complex, sin was inevitable, and the 
Jewish spirit was often overcast with the thought of sin's consequences, 
from the withholding of rain to the ruin of all Israel. There was no Hell 
in this faith as a distinctive place of punishment; but almost as bad was the 
Shcol, or "land of darkness" under the earth, which received all the dead, 
good and wicked alike, except such divine favorites as Moses, Enoch and 
Elijah. The Jews, however, made little reference to a life beyond the 
grave; their creed said nothing of personal immortality, and confined its 
rewards and punishments to this mundane life. Not until the Jews had lost 
hope of earthly triumph did they take over, probably from Persia and per- 
haps also from Egypt, the notion of personal resurrection. It was out of 
this spiritual denouement that Christianity was born. 

The threat and consequence of sin might be offset by prayer or sacrifice. 
Semitic, like "Aryan," sacrifice began by offering human victims;" 5 then it 
offered animals the "first fruits of the flocks" and food from the fields; 
finally it compromised by offering praise. At first no animal might be 
eaten unless killed and blessed by the priest, and offered for a moment to 
the god. 80 Circumcision partook of the nature of a sacrifice, and perhaps of 
a commutation: the god took a part for the whole. Menstruation and child- 
birth, like sin, made a person spiritually unclean, and necessitated ritual 
purification by priestly sacrifice and prayer. At every turn tabus hedged in 
the faithful; sin lay potential in almost every desire, and donations were re- 
quired in atonement for almost every sin. 

Only the priests could offer sacrifice properly, or explain correctly 
the ritual and mysteries of the faith. The priests were a closed caste, to 


which none but the descendants of Levi* could belong. They could not 
inherit property," but they were exempt from all taxation, toll, or tribute;" 
they levied a tithe upon the harvests of the flocks, and turned to their 
own use such offerings to the Temple as were left unused by the god. 90 
After the Exile, the wealth of the clergy grew with that of the renascent 
community; and since this sacerdotal wealth was well administered, 
augmented and preserved, it finally made the priests of the Second 
Temple, in Jerusalem as in Thebes and Babylon, more powerful than 
the king. 

Nevertheless the growth of clerical power and religious education 
never quite sufficed to win the Hebrews from superstition and idolatry. 
The hill-tops and groves continued to harbor alien gods and to witness 
secret rites; a substantial minority of the people prostrated themselves 
before sacred stones, or worshiped Baal or Astarte, or practised divination 
in the Babylonian manner, or set up images and burned incense to them, 
or knelt before the brazen serpent or the Golden Calf, or filled the 
Temple with the noise of heathen feasting, 81 or made their children 
"pass through the fire" in sacrifice; 08 even some of the kings, like Solomon 
and Ahab, went "a-whoring" after foreign gods. Holy men like Elijah 
and Elisha arose who, without necessarily becoming priests, preached against 
these practices, and tried by the example of their lives to lead their people 
into righteousness. Out of these conditions and beginnings, and out of 
the rise of poverty and exploitation in Israel, came the supreme figures 
in Jewish religion those passionate Prophets who purified and elevated 
the creed of the Jews, and prepared it for its vicarious conquest of the 
western world. 


The class 'war Origin of the Prophets Amos at Jerusalem- 
Isaiah His attacks upon the rich His doctrine of a Messiah 
The influence of the Prophets 

Since poverty is created by wealth, and never knows itself poor until 
riches stare it in the face, so it required the fabulous fortune of Solomon 
to mark the beginning of the class war in Israel. Solomon, like Peter 
and Lenin, tried to move too quickly from an agricultural to an industrial 
state. Not only did the toil and taxes involved in his enterprises impose 
great burdens upon his people, but when those undertakings were com- 

One of the sons of Jacob. 


plete, after twenty years of industry, a proletariat had been created 'in 
Jerusalem which, lacking sufficient employment, became a source of 
political faction and corruption in Palestine, precisely as it was to become 
in Rome. Slums developed step by step with the rise of private wealth 
and the increasing luxury of the court. Exploitation and usury became 
recognized practises among the owners of great estates and the merchants 
and money-lenders who flocked about the Temple. The landlords of 
Ephraim, said Amos, "sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a 
pair of shoes." 08 

This growing gap between the needy and the affluent, and the sharpen- 
ing of that conflict between the city and the country which always 
accompanies an industrial civilization, had something to do with the 
division of Palestine into two hostile kingdoms after the death of Solo- 
mon: a northern kingdom of Ephraim,* with its capital at Samaria, and 
a southern kingdom of Judah, with its capital at Jerusalem. From that 
time on the Jews were weakened by fraternal hatred and strife, breaking 
out occasionally into bitter war. Shortly after the death of Solomon 
Jerusalem was captured by Sheshonk, Pharaoh of Egypt, and surrendered, 
to appease the conqueror, nearly all the gold that Solomon had gathered 
in his long career of taxation. 

It was in this atmosphere of political disruption, economic war, and 
religious degeneration that the Prophets appeared. The men to whom 
the word (in Hebrew, Nabi1[) was first applied were not quite of the 
character that our reverence would associate with Amos and Isaiah. 
Some were diviners who could read the secrets of the heart and the past, 
and foretell the future, according to remuneration; some were fanatics 
who worked themselves into a frenzy by weird music, strong drink, or 
dervish-like dances, and spoke, in trances, words which their hearers 
considered inspired i.e., breathed into them by some spirit other than 
their own. 04 Jeremiah speaks with professional scorn of "every man that 
is mad, and maketh himself a prophet." 95 Some were gloomy recluses, 
like Elijah; many of them lived in schools or monasteries near the temples; 
but most of them had private property and wives. 9 * From this motley 
crowd of fakirs the Prophets developed into responsible and consistent 
critics of their age and their people, magnificent street-corner statesmen 

* This kingdom often called itself "Israel"; but this word will be used, in these pages, to 
include all the Jews, 
t Translated by the Greeks into pro-phe-tes, announcer. 


who were all "thorough-going anti-clericals," 87 and "the most uncom- 
promising of anti-Semites," 1 * a cross between soothsayers and socialists. 
We misunderstand them if we take them as prophets in the weather 
sense; their predictions were hopes or threats, or pious interpolations, 8 " 
or prognostications after the event;" the Prophets themselves did not 
pretend to foretell, so much as to speak out; they were eloquent members 
of the Opposition. In one phase they were Tolstoians incensed at in- 
dustrial exploitation and ecclesiastical chicanery; they came up from 
the simple countryside, and hurled damnation at the corrupt wealth of 
the towns. 

Amos described himself not as a prophet but as a s ; rrmlc village 
shepherd. Having left his herds to see Beth-El, he was horrified at the 
unnatural complexity of the life which he discovered there, the in- 
equality of fortune, the bitterness of competition, the ruthlessness of 
exploitation. So he "stood in the gate," and lashed the conscienceless rich 
and their luxuries: 

Forasmuch, therefore, as your treading is upon the poor, and ye 
take from him burdens of wheat; ye have built houses of hewn 
stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant 
vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. . . . Woe to them 
that arc at case in Zion, . . . that lie upon beds of ivory, and 
stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the 
flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to 
the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, 
like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with 
the chief ointments. . . . 

I despise your feast-days (saith the Lord); . . . though ye offer me 
burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them. . . . 
Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear 
the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and 
righteousness as a mighty stream. 101 

This is a new note in the world's literature. It is true that Amos dulls 
the edge of his idealism by putting into the mouth of his god a Mississippi 
of threats whose severity and accumulation make the reader sympathize 
for a moment with the drinkers of wine and the listeners to music. But 
here, for the first time in the literature of Asia, the social conscience takes 
definite form, and pours into religion a content that lifts it from ceremony 


and flattery to a whip of morals and a call to nobility. With Amos begins 
the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

One of his bitterest predictions seems to have been fulfilled while 
Amos was still alive. "Thus saith the Lord: As the shepherd taketh out 
of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the children 
of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and 
in Damascus in a couch. . . . And the houses of ivory shall perish, and 
the great houses shall have an end." loa * About the same time another 
prophet threatened Samaria with destruction in one of those myriads of 
vivid phrases which King James's translators minted for the currency of 
our speech out of the wealth of the Bible: "The calf of Samaria," said 
Hosea, "shall be broken into pieces; for they have sown the wind, and 
they shall reap the whirlwind." 104 In 733 the young kingdom of Judah, 
threatened by Ephraim in alliance with Syria, appealed to Assyria for 
help. Assyria came, took Damascus, subjected Syria, Tyre and Palestine 
to tribute, made note of Jewish efforts to secure Egyptian aid, invaded 
again, captured Samaria, indulged in unprintable diplomatic exchanges 
with the King of Judah, 106 failed to take Jerusalem, and retired to Nineveh 
laden with booty and 200,000 Jewish captives doomed to Assyrian 
slavery. 108 

It was during this siege of Jerusalem that the prophet Isaiah became 
one of the great figures of Hebrew history, t Less provincial than Amos, 
he thought in terms of enduring statesmanship. Convinced that little 
Judah could not resist the imperial power of Assyria, even with the help 
of distant Egypt that broken staff which would pierce the hand that 
should try to use it he pled with King Ahaz, and then with King 
Hezekiah, to remain neutral in the war between Assyria and Ephraim; 
like Amos and Hosea he foresaw the fall of Samaria, 108 and the end of the 
northern kingdom. When, however, the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem, 
Isaiah counseled Hezekiah not to yield. The sudden withdrawal of 
Sennacherib's hosts seemed to justify him, and for a time his repute was 
high with the King and the people. Always his advice was to deal justly, 

*The reference is apparently to the room, made entirely of ivory, in the palace at 
Samaria where King Ahab lived with his "painted queen," Jezebel (ca. 875-50 B.C.). Sev- 
eral fine ivories have been found by the Harvard Library Expedition in the ruins of a 
palace tentatively identified with Ahab's. 108 

fThe book that bears his name is a collection of "prophecies" (i.e., sermons) by two 
or more authors ranging in time from 710 to 300 B.C. 107 Chapters i-xxxix are usually 
ascribed to the "First Isaiah," who is here discussed. 


and then leave the issue to Yahveh, who would use Assyria as his agent 
for a time, but in the end would destroy her, too. Indeed, all the nations 
known to Isaiah were, according to him, destined to be struck down by 
Yahveh; in a few chapters (xvi-xxiii) Moab, Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, 
Babylon and Tyre are dedicated to destruction; "every one shall howl." 109 
This ardor for ruination, this litany of curses, mars Isaiah's book, as it 
mars all the prophetic literature of the Bible. 

Nevertheless his denunciation falls where it belongs upon economic 
exploitation and greed. Here his eloquence rises to the highest point 
reached in the Old Testament, in passages that are among the peaks of 
the world's prose: 

The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people 
and the princes thereof; for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the 
spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my 
people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? . . . Woe unto 
them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no 
place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth! . . . 
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees to turn aside the 
needy from judgment (justice), and to take away the right from 
the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that 
they may rob the fatherless. And what will ye do in the day of 
visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from afar? to 
whom will ye flee for help, and where will ye leave your glory? 1 " 

He is filled with scorn of those who, while fleecing the poor, present a 
pious face to the world. 

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? 
saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the 
fat of fed beasts. . . . Your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they 
are a trouble unto me; I am weary to hear them. And when ye 
spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when 
ye make many prayers I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. 
Wash ye, make ye clean, put away the evil of your doings from 
before mine eyes, cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment 
(justice), relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the 
widow." 1 

He is bitter, but he does not despair of his people; just as Amos had 
ended his prophecies with a prediction, strangely apt today, of the 

CHAP. Xn) JUDEA 319 

restoration of the Jews to their native land, 111 so Isaiah concludes by 
formulating the Messianic hope the trust of the Jews in some Redeemer 
who will end their political divisions, their subjection, and their misery, 
3nd bring an era of universal brotherhood and peace: 

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call 
his name Immanuel. . . . For unto us a child is born: and the gov- 
ernment shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called 
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, 
the Prince of Peace. . . . And there shall come forth a rod out 
of the stem of Jesse. . . . And the spirit of the Lord shall rest 
upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of 
counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the 
Lord. . . . With righteousness shall he judge the poor, and re- 
prove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite 
the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his 
lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle 
of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also 
shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the 
kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fading together; and 
a little child shall lead them. . . . And they shall beat their swords 
into ploughshares, and their spears into priming-hooks: nation shall 
not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any 

It was an admirable aspiration, but not for many generations yet would 
ft express the mood of the Jews. The priests of the Temple listened 
with a well-controlled sympathy to these useful encouragements to piety; 
certain sects looked back to the Prophets for part of their inspiration; and 
perhaps these excoriations of all sensual delight had some share in intensi- 
fying the desert-born Puritanism of the Jews. But for the most part the 
old life of the palace and the tent, the market-place and the field, went 
on as before; war took its choice of every generation, and slavery con- 
tinued to be the lot of the alien; the merchant cheated with his scales, 114 
and tried to atone with sacrifice and prayer. 

It was upon the Judaism of post-Exilic days, and upon the world 
through Judaism and Christianity, that the Prophets left their deepest 
mark. In Amos and Isaiah is the beginning of both Christianity and 
socialism, the spring from which has flowed a stream of Utopias wherein 


no poverty or war shall disturb human brotherhood and peace; they are 
the source of the early Jewish conception of a Messiah who would seize 
the government, reestablish the temporal power of the Jews, and inaug- 
urate a dictatorship of the dispossessed among mankind. Isaiah and Amos 
began, in a military age, the exaltation of those virtues of simplicity and 
gentleness, of cooperation and friendliness, which Jesus was to make a 
vital element in his creed. They were the first to undertake the heavy 
task of reforming the God of Hosts into a God of Love; they conscripted 
Yahveh for humanitarianism as the radicals of the nineteenth century 
conscripted Christ for socialism. It was they who, when the Bible was 
printed in Europe, fired the Germanic mind with a rejuvenated Chris- 
tianity, and lighted the torch of the Reformation; it was their fierce and 
intolerant virtue that formed the Puritans. Their moral philosophy was 
based upon a theory that would bear better documentation that the 
righteous man will prosper, and the wicked will be struck down; but 
even if that should be a delusion it is the failing of a noble miud. The 
prophets had no conception of freedom, but they loved justice, and 
called for an end to the tribal limitations of morality. They offered to 
the unfortunate of the earth a vision of brotherhood that became the 
precious and unforgotten heritage of many generations. 


The birth of the BibleThe destruction of Jerusalem The Baby- 
lonian Captivity Jeremiah Ezekiel The Second Isaiah 
The liberation of the Jews The Second Tevnple 

Their greatest contemporary influence was on the writing of the Bible. 
As the people fell away from the worship of Yahveh to the adoration 
of alien gods, the priests began to wonder whether the time had not come 
to make a final stand against the disintegration of the national faith. 
Taking a leaf from the Prophets, who attributed to Yahveh the passionate 
convictions of their own souls, they resolved to issue to the people a com- 
munication from God himself, a code of laws that would reinvigorate 
the moral life of the nation, and would at the same time attract the 
support of the Prophets by embodying the less extreme of their ideas. 
They readily won King Josiah to their plan; and about the eighteenth 
year of his reign the priest Hilkiah announced to the King that he had 
"found" in the secret archives of the Temple an astonishing scroll in 


which the great Moses himself, at the direct dictation of Yahveh, had 
settled once for all those problems of history and conduct that were 
being so hotly debated by prophets and priests. The discovery made a 
great stir. Josiah called the elders of Judah to the Temple, and there read 
to them the "Book of the Covenant" in the presence (we are told) of 
thousands of people. Then he solemnly swore that he would henceforth 
abide by the laws of this book; and "he caused all that were present to 
stand to it." 115 

We do not know just what this "Book of the Covenant" was; it may 
have been Exodus xx-xxiii, or it may have been Deuteronomy. 11 ' We need 
not suppose that it had been invented on the spur of the situation; it 
merely formulated, and put into writing, decrees, demands and exhorta- 
tions which for centuries had emanated from the prophets and the Temple. 
In any event, those who heard the reading, and even those who only 
heard of it, were deeply impressed. Josiah took advantage of this mood to 
raid the altars of Yahveh's rivals in Judah; he cast "out of the temple of 
the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal," he put down the 
idolatrous priests, and "them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the 
sun, and to the moon, and to the planets"; he "defiled Topheth, .... 
that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire 
to Molech"; and he smashed the altars that Solomon had built for Che- 
mosh, Milcom and Astarte. 1 " 

These reforms did not seem to propitiate Yahveh, or bring him to the 
aid of his people. Nineveh fell as the Prophets had foretold, but only 
to leave little Judah subject first to Egypt and then to Babylon. When 
Pharaoh Necho, bound for Syria, tried to pass through Palestine, Josiah, 
relying upon Yahveh, resisted him on the ancient battle-site of Megiddo 
only to be defeated and slain. A few years later Nebuchadrezzar over- 
whelmed Necho at Carchemish, and made Judah a Babylonian depend- 
ency. Josiah's successors sought by secret diplomacy to liberate them- 
selves from the clutch of Babylon, and thought to bring Egypt to their 
rescue; but the fiery Nebuchadrezzar, getting wind of it, poured his 
soldiery into Palestine, captured Jerusalem, took King Jchoiakim prisoner, 
put Zedckiah on the throne of Judah, and carried 10,000 Jews into bond- 
age. But Zedekiah, too, loved liberty, or power, and rebelled against 
Babylon. Thereupon Nebuchadrezzar returned, and resolving to settle 
the Jewish problem once and for all, as he thought recaptured Jerusalem, 
burned it to the ground, destroyed the Temple of Solomon, slew Zedc- 


kiah's sons before his face, gouged out his eyes, and carried practically 
all the population of the city into captivity in Babylonia." 8 Later a Jewish 
poet sang one of the world's great songs about that unhappy caravan: 

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when 

we remembered Zion. 

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. 
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; 

and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one 

of the songs of Zion. 

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? 
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. 
If I do not remember thec, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my 

mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. uo 

In all this crisis the bitterest and most eloquent of the Prophets defended 
Babylon as a scourge in the hands of God, denounced the rulers of Judah 
as obstinate fools, and advised such complete surrender to Nebuchadrezzar 
that the modern reader is tempted to wonder could Jeremiah have been 
a paid agent of Babylonia. "I have made the earth, the man and the 
beast that arc upon the ground," says Jeremiah's God, . . . "and now have 
I given all those lands into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar, the King of 
Babylon, my servant. . . . And all nations shall serve him. And it shall 
come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the 
same Nebuchadrezzar, the King of Babylon, and that will not put their 
neck under the yoke of the King of Babylon, that nation will I punish, 
saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pesti- 
lence, until I have consumed them by his hand." 120 

He may have been a traitor, but the book of his prophecies, supposedly 
taken down by his disciple Baruch, is not only one of the most passion- 
ately eloquent writings in all literature, as rich in vivid imagery as in 
merciless abuse, but it is marked with a sincerity that begins as a diffident 
self-questioning, and ends with honest doubts about his own course and 
all human life. "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me, a man 
of strife, and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent 
on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth 
curse me. . . . Cursed be the day wherein I was born." 131 A flame of in- 
dignation burned in him at the sight of moral depravity and political folly 
in his people and its leaders; he felt inwardly compelled to stand in the 


gate and call Israel to repentance. All this national decay, all this weak- 
ening of the state, this obviously imminent subjection of Judah to Babylon, 
were, it seemed to Jeremiah, Yahveh's hand laid upon the Jews in punish- 
ment for their sins. "Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, 
and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can 
find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the 
truth; and I will pardon it." 1 * 5 Everywhere iniquity ruled, and sex ran 
riot; men "were as fed horses in the morning; every one neighed after 
his neighbor's wife." 183 When the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem the 
rich men of the city, to propitiate Yahveh, released their Hebrew slaves; 
but when for a time the siege was raised, and the danger seemed past, 
the rich apprehended their former slaves, and forced them into their old 
bondage: it was a summary of human history that Jeremiah could not 
bear silently. 134 Like the other Prophets, he denounced those hypocrites 
who with pious faces brought to the Temple some part of the gains they 
had made from grinding the faces of the poor; the Lord, he reminded 
them, in the eternal lesson of all finer religion, asked not for sacrifice but 
for justice. 185 The priests and the prophets, he thinks, are almost as false 
and corrupt as the merchants; they, too, like the people, need to be 
morally reborn, to be (in Jeremiah's strange phrase) circumcised in the 
spirit as well as in the flesh. "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take 
away the foreskins of your heart." 120 

Against these abuses the Prophet preached with a fury rivaled only 
by the stern saints of Geneva, Scotland and England. Jeremiah cursed 
the Jews savagely, and took some delight in picturing the ruin of all who 
would not heed him. 127 Time and again he predicted the destruction 
of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon, and wept over the doomed 
city (whom he called the daughter of Zion) in terms anticipatory of 
Christ: "Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of 
tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of 
my people!" 1 * 8 

To the "princes" of Zedekiah's court all this seemed sheer treason; 
it was dividing the Jews in counsel and spirit in the very hour of war. 
Jeremiah tantalized them by carrying a wooden yoke around his neck, ex- 
plaining that all Judah must submit the more peaceably the better to 
the yoke of Babylon; and when Ilananiah tore this yoke away Jeremiah 
cried out that Yahveh would make yokes of iron for all the Jews. The 
priests tried to stop him by putting his head into the stocks; but from 


even that position he continued to denounce them. They arraigned him 
in the Temple, and wished to kill him, but through some friend among the 
priests he escaped. Then the princes arrested him, and lowered him by 
ropes into a dungeon filled with mire; but Zedekiah had him raised to 
milder imprisonment in the palace court. There the Babylonians found 
him when Jerusalem fell. On Nebuchadrezzar's orders they treated him 
well, and exempted him from the general exile. In his old age, says ortho- 
dox tradition, 1381 he wrote his "Lamentations," the most eloquent of all the 
books of the Old Testament. He mourned now the completeness of his 
triumph and the desolation of Jerusalem, and raised to heaven the un- 
answerable questions of Job: 

How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how she is 
become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and 
princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! . . . 
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there 
be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. . . . Righteous art thou, O 
Lord, when I plead with dice: yet let us talk with dice of thy 
judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? 
Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? 13 " 

Meanwhile, in Babylon, another preacher was taking up the burden of 
prophecy. Ezekicl belonged to a priestly family that had been driven 
to Babylon in the first deportation from Jerusalem. He began his preach- 
ing, like the First Isaiah and Jeremiah, with fierce denunciations of idol- 
atry and corruption in Jerusalem. At great length he compared Jerusa- 
lem to a harlot, because she sold the favors of her worship to strange 
gods; 110 he described Samaria and Jerusalem as twin whores; this word was 
as popular with him as with the dramatists of the Stuart Restoration. He 
made long lists of the sins of Jerusalem, and then condemned her to cap- 
ture and destruction. Like Isaiah, he doomed the nations impartially, and 
announced the sins and fall of Moab, Tyre, Egypt, Assyria, even of the 
mysterious kingdom of Magog." 1 But he was not as bitter as Jeremiah; in 
the end he relented, declared that the Lord would save "a remnant" of the 
Jews, and foretold the resurrection of their city; 133 he described in vision 
the new Temple that would be built there, and outlined a Utopia in which 
the priests would be supreme, and in which Yahveh would dwell among 
his people forever. 


He hoped, with this happy ending, to keep up the spirits of the exiles, 
and to retard their assimilation into the Babylonian culture and blood. 
Then as now it seemed that this process of absorption would destroy the 
unity, even the identity, of the Jews. They flourished on Mesopotamia's 
rich soil, they enjoyed considerable freedom of custom and worship, they 
grew rapidly in numbers and wealth, and prospered in the unwonted 
tranquillity and harmony which their subjection had brought to them. An 
ever-rising proportion of them accepted the gods of Babylon, and the 
epicurean ways of the old metropolis. When the second generation of 
exiles grew up, Jerusalem was almost forgotten. 

It was the function of the unknown author who undertook to complete 
the Book of Isaiah to restate the religion of Israel for this backsliding gen- 
eration; and it was his distinction, in restating it, to lift it to the loftiest 
plane that any religion had yet reached amid all the faiths of the Near 
East.* While Buddha in India was preaching the death of desire, and 
Confucius in China was formulating wisdom for his people, this "Sec- 
ond Isaiah," in majestic and luminous prose, announced to the exiled Jews 
the first clear revelation of monotheism, and offered them a new god, in- 
finitely richer in "lovingkindness" and tender mercy than the bitter Yah- 
veh even of the First Isaiah. In words that a later gospel was to choose 
as spurring on the young Christ, this greatest of Prophets announced his 
mission no longer to curse the people for their sins, but to bring them 
hope in their bondage. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because 
the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath 
sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." 13 " 1 For he has dis- 
covered that Yah veh is not a god of war and vengeance, but a loving 
father; the discovery fills him with happiness, and inspires him to mag- 
nificent songs. He predicts the coming of the new god to rescue his 

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the 
way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our 
God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill 

* We know nothing of the history of this writer, who, by a literary device and license 
common to his time, chose to speak in the name of Isaiah. We merely guess that he 
wrote shortly before or after Cyrus liberated the Jews. Biblical scholarship assigns to him 
chapters xl-lv, and to another and later unknown, or unknowns, chapters Ivi-lxvi." 9 * 


shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the 
rough places plain.* . . . Behold, the Lord God will come with 
strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him. . . . He shall feed 
his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, 
and carry them in his bosom and shall gently lead those that are 
with young. 

The prophet then lifts the Messianic hope to a place among the ruling 
ideas of his people, and describes- the "Servant" who will redeem Israel 
by vicarious sacrifice: 

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and ac- 
quainted with grief; ... he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we 
did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was 
wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; 
the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes 
we are healed. . . . The -Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us 
all.t 184 

Persia, the Second Isaiah predicts, will be the instrument of this lib- 
eration. Cyrus is invincible; he will take Babylon, and will free the Jews 
from their captivity. They will return to Jerusalem and build a new 
Temple, a new city, a very paradise: "the wolf and the lamb shall feed 
together, and the lion shall eat straw like a bullock; and dust shall be the 
serpent's meat. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, 
saith the Lord." 135 Perhaps it was the rise of Persia, and the spread of its 
power, subjecting all the states of the Near East in an imperial unity 
vaster and better governed than any social organization men had yet 
known, that suggested to the Prophet the conception of one universal 
deity. No longer does his god say, like the Yahveh of Moses, "I am the 
Lord thy God; . . . thou shah not have strange gods before me"; now it 
is written: "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no god besides 
me." 13a The prophet-poet describes this universal deity in one of the great 
passages of the Bible: 

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and 
meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of 

Referring, presumably, to the road from Babylon to Jerusalem. 

t Modern research does not regard the "Servant" as the prophetic portrayal of Jesus. 1 * 4 * 

CHAP. Xlj) JUDEA 327 

the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and 
the hills in a balance? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, 
and are counted as the small dust of the balance; behold, he taketh 
up the isles as a very little thing. All nations before him are as 
nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. 
To whom, then, will ye liken God, or what likeness will ye com- 
pare with him? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and 
the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the 
heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. 
Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these 
things. m 

It was a dramatic hour in the history of Israel when at last Cyrus entered 
Babylon as a world-conqueror, and gave to the exiled Jews full freedom 
to return to Jerusalem. He disappointed some of the Prophets, and 
showed his superior civilization, by leaving Babylon and its population 
unhurt, and offering a sceptical obeisance to its gods. He restored to the 
Jews what remained in the Babylonian treasury of the gold and silver 
taken by Nebuchadrezzar from the Temple, and instructed the communi- 
ties in which the exiles lived to furnish them with funds for their long 
journey home. The younger Jews were not enthusiastic at this libera- 
tion; many of them had sunk strong roots into Babylonian soil, and 
hesitated to abandon their fertile fields and their flourishing trade for the 
desolate ruins of the Holy City. It was not until two years after Cyrus* 
coming that the first detachment of zealots set out on the long three 
months' journey back to the land which their fathers had left half a 
century before. 138 

They found themselves, then as now, not entirely welcome in their 
ancient home. For meanwhile other Semites had settled there, and had 
made the soil their own by occupation and toil; and these tribes looked 
with hatred upon the apparent invaders of what seemed to them their 
native fields. The returning Jews could not possibly have established them- 
selves had it not been for the strong and friendly empire that protected 
them. The prince Zerubbabel won permission from the Persian king, 
Darius I, to rebuild the Temple; and though the immigrants were small in 
number and resources, and the work was hindered at every step by the 
attacks and conspiracies of a hostile population, it was carried to com- 
pletion within some twenty-two years after the return. Slowly Jerusalem 
became again a Jewish city, and the Temple resounded with the psalms of 


a rescued remnant resolved to make Judea strong again. It was a great 
triumph, surpassed only by that which we have seen in our own historic 


The "Book of the Law" The composition of the Pentateuch 
The myths of "Genesis"-The Mosaic Code-The Ten Com- 
mandments The Idea of God The sabbath The 
Jewish family Estimate of the Mosaic legislation 

To build a military state was impossible, Judea had neither the num- 
bers nor the wealth for such an enterprise. Since some system of order 
was needed that, while recognizing the sovereignty of Persia, would give 
the Jews a natural discipline and a national unity, the clergy undertook 
to provide a theocratic rule based, like Josiah's, on priestly traditions and 
laws promulgated as divine commands. About the year 444 B.C. Ezra, a 
learned priest, called the Jews together in solemn assembly, and read to 
them, from morn to midday, the "Book of the Law of Moses." For seven 
days he and his fellow Levites read from these scrolls; at the end the 
priests and the leaders of the people pledged themselves to accept this 
body of legislation as their constitution and their conscience, and to 
obey it forever. 180 From those troubled times till ours that Law has been 
the central fact in the life of the Jews; and their loyalty to it through all 
wanderings and tribulations has been one of the impressive phenomena of 

What was this "Book of the Law of Moses"? Not quite the same as 
that "Book of the Covenant" which Josiah had read; for the latter had 
admitted of being completely read twice in a day, while the other needed 
a week. 140 We can only guess that the larger scroll constituted a substan- 
tial part of those first five books of the Old Testament which the Jews 
call Torah or the Law, and which others call the Pentateuch. 141 * How, 
when, and where had these books been written? This is an innocent ques- 
tion which has caused the writing of fifty thousand volumes, and must 
here be left unanswered in a paragraph. 

The consensus of scholarship is that the oldest elements in the Bible are 
those distinct and yet similar legends of Genesis which are called "J" and 

* Torah is Hebrew for Direction, Guidance; Pentateuch is Greek for Five Rolls. 


"E" respectively because one speaks of the Creator as Jehovah (Yahveh), 
while the other speaks of him as Elohim.* It is believed that the Yahvist 
narrative was written in Judah, the Elohist in Ephraim, and that the two 
stories fused into one after the fall of Samaria. A third element, known as 
"D," and embodying the Deuteronomic Code, is probably by a distinct au- 
thor or group of authors. A fourth clement, "P," is composed of sections 
later inserted by the priests; this "Priestly Code" is probably the substance 
of the "Book of the Law" promulgated by Ezra. 1420 The four compositions 
appear to have taken their present form about 300 B.C. 148 

These delightful tales of the Creation, the Temptation and the Flood 
were drawn from a storehouse of Mcsopotamian legend as old as 3000 B.C.; 
we have seen some early forms of them in the course of this history. It is 
possible that the Jews appropriated some of these myths from Babylonian 
literature during the Captivity; 144 it is more likely that they had adopted 
them long before, from ancient Semitic and Sumerian sources common to 
all the Near East. The Persian and the Talmudic forms of the Creation 
myth represent God as first making a two-scxcd being a male and a female 
joined at the back like Siamese twins and then dividing it as an after- 
thought. We are reminded of a strange sentence in Genesis (v, 2): "Male 
and female created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam": 
i.e., our first parent was originally both male and female which seems to 
have escaped all theologians except Aristophanes.t 

The legend of Paradise appears in almost all folklore in Egypt, India, 
Tibet, Babylonia, Persia, Greece,^ Polynesia, Mexico, etc. 145 Most of these 
Edens had forbidden trees, and were supplied with serpents or dragons that 
stole immortality from men, or otherwise poisoned Paradise. 147 Both the 
serpent and the fig were probably phallic symbols; behind the myth is the 
thought that sex and knowledge destroy innocence and happiness, and are 
the origin of evil; we shall find this same idea at the end of the Old Testa- 
ment in Ecclcsiastes as here at the beginning. In most of these stories 

* A distinction first pointed out by Jean Astruc in 1753. Passages generally ascribed to 
the "Yahvist" account: Gen. ii, 4 to in, 24, iv, vi-vni, xi, 1-9, xii-xiii, xviii-xix, xxiv, xxvii, 
1-45, xxxii, xliii-xliv; Exod. iv-v, viii, 20 to ix, 7, x-xi, xxxiii, 12 to xxxiv, 26; Numb, x, 
29-36, xi, etc. Distinctly "Elohist" passages: Gen. xi, 10-32, xx, 1-17, xxi, 8-32, xxii, 1-14, 
xl-xlii, xlv; Exod. xviii, 20-23, xx-xxii, xxxiii, 7-11; Numb, xii, xxii-xxiv, etc. 143 

tCf. Plato's Symposium. 

Cf. the Greek poet Hesiod (ca. 75on.c.), in Works and Days: "Men lived like gods, 
without vices or passions, vexations or toil. In happy companionship with divine beings 
they passed their days in tranquillity and joy. ... The earth was more beautiful then than 
now, and spontaneously yielded an abundant variety of fruits. . . . Men were considered 
mere boys at one hundred years old." 14 * 


woman was the lovely-evil agent of the serpent or the devil, whether as 
Eve, or Pandora, or the Poo See of Chinese legend. "All things," says the 
Shi-ching, "were at first subject to man, but a woman threw us into 
slavery. Our misery came not from heaven but from woman; she lost the 
human race. Ah, unhappy Poo See! Thou kindled the fire that consumes 
us, and which is every day increasing. . . . The world is lost. Vice over- 
flows all things." 

Even more universal was the story of the Flood; hardly an ancient people 
went without it, and hardly a mountain in Asia but had given perch to some 
water-wearied Noah or Shamash-napishtim. 148 Usually these legends were the 
popular vehicle or allegory of a philosophical judgment or a moral attitude 
summarizing long racial experience that sex and knowledge bring more 
grief than joy, and that human life is periodically threatened by floods, i.e., 
ruinous inundations of the great rivers whose waters made possible the earliest 
known civilizations. To ask whether these stories are true or false, whether 
they "really happened," would be to put a trivial and superficial question; 
their substance; of course, is not the tales they tell but the judgments they 
convey. Meanwhile it would be unwise not to enjoy their disarming sim- 
plicity, and the vivid swiftness of their narratives. 

The books which Josiah and Ezra caused to be read to the people 
formulated that "Mosaic" Code on which all later Jewish life was to be 
built. Of this legislation the cautious Sarton writes: "Its importance in 
the history of institutions and of law cannot be overestimated." 148 It was 
the most thoroughgoing attempt in history to use religion as a basis of 
statesmanship, and as a regulator of every detail of life; the Law became, 
says Renan, "the tightest garment into which life was ever laced." 1110 Diet,* 
medicine, personal, menstrual and natal hygiene, public sanitation, sexual 
inversion and bestiality 169 all are made subjects of divine ordinance and 
guidance; again we observe how slowly the doctor was differentiated 
from the priest 1 " to become in time his greatest enemy. Leviticus (xiii- 
xv) legislates carefully for the treatment of venereal disease, even to the 
most definite directions for segregation, disinfection, fumigation and, if 
necessary, the complete burning of the house in which the disease has run 

*Cf. Dcut. xiv. Reinach, Roberston Smith and Sir James Frazer have attributed the 
avoidance of pork not to hygienic knowledge and precaution but to the totemic worship 
of the pig (or wild boar) by the ancestors of the Jews. 1 * 1 The "worship" of the wild 
boar, however, may have been merely a priestly means of making it tabu in the sense of 
"unclean." The great number of wise hygienic rules in the Mosaic Code warrant a 
humble scepticism of Reinach's interpretation. 


its course." 4 * "The ancient Hebrews were the founders of prophy- 
laxis," 188 but they seem to have had no surgery beyond circumcision. This 
rite common among ancient Egyptians and modern Semites was not 
only a sacrifice to God and a compulsion to racial loyalty, t it was a 
hygienic precaution against sexual uncleanliness. 1 Perhaps it was this 
Code of Cleanliness that helped to preserve the Jews through their long 
Odyssey of dispersion and suffering. 

For the rest the Code centered about those Ten Commandments (Exodus, 
xx, 1-17) which were destined to receive the lip-service of half the world.J 
The first laid the foundation of the new theocratic community, which was to 
rest not upon any civil law, but upon the idea of God; he was the Invisible 
King who dictated every law and meted out every penalty; and his people 
were to be called Israel, as meaning the Defenders of God. The Hebrew 
state was dead, but the Temple remained; the priests of Judea, like the Popes 
of Rome, would try to restore what the kings had failed to save. Hence the 
explicitness and reiteration of the First Commandment: heresy or blasphemy 
must be punished with death, even if the heretic should be one's closest kin. 181 
The priestly authors of the Code, like the pious Inquisitors, believed that re- 
ligious unity was an indispensable condition of social organization and soli- 
darity. It was this intolerance, and their racial pride, that embroiled and 
preserved the Jews. 

The Second Commandment elevated the national conception of God at 
the expense of art: no graven images were ever to be made of him. It as- 
sumed a high intellectual level among the Jews, for it rejected superstition 

* The procedure recommended by Leviticus (xiii-xiv) in cases of leprosy was practised 
in Europe to the end of the Middle Ages. 1 * 5 

fBy making race ultimately unconcealablc. "The Jewish rite," says Briffault, "did not 
assume its present form until so late a period as that of the Maccabees (167 B.C.). At that 
date it was still performed in such a manner that the jibes of Gentile women could be 
evaded, little trace of the operation being perceptible. The nationalistic priesthood there- 
fore enacted that the prepuce should be completely removed." 1 " 

:}: It was the usual thing for ancient law-codes to be bf divine origin. We have seen 
how the laws of Egypt were given it by the god Thoth, and how the sun-god Shamash 
begot Hammurabi's code. In like manner a deity gave to King Minos on Mt. Dicta the 
laws that were to govern Crete; the Greeks represented Dionysus, whom they also called 
"The Lawgiver," with two tables of stone on which laws were inscribed; and the pious 
Persians tell how, one day, as Zoroaster prayed on a high mountain, Ah ura -Mazda ap- 
peared to him amid thunder and lightning, and delivered to him "The Book of the 
Law." w "They did all this," says Diodorus, "because they believed that a conception 
which would help humanity was marvelous and wholly divine; or because they held that 
the common crowd would be more likely to obey the laws if their gaze were directed 
towards the majesty and power of those to whom their laws were ascribed." 1 * 


and anthropomorphism, and despite the all-too-human quality of the Penta- 
teuch Yahvch tried to conceive of God as beyond every form and image. 
It conscripted Hebrew devotion for religion, and left nothing, in ancient days, 
for science and art; even astronomy was neglected, lest corrupt diviners 
should multiply, or the stars be worshiped as divinities. In Solomon's Temple 
there had been an almost heathen abundance of imagery; 108 in the new Temple 
there was none. The old images had been carried off to Babylon, and ap- 
parently had not been returned along with utensils of silver and gold. 104 Hence 
we find no sculpture, painting or bas-relief after the Captivity, and very little 
before it except under the almost alien Solomon; architecture and music were 
the only arts that the priests would allow. Song and Temple ritual redeemed 
the life of the people from gloom; an orchestra of several instruments joined 
"as one to make one sound" with a great choir of voices to sing the psalms 
that glorified the Temple and its God. 1 " "David and all the house of Israel 
played before the Lord on harps, psalteries, timbrels, cornets and cymbals." 16 " 

The Third Commandment typified the intense piety of the Jew. Not only 
would he not "take the name of the Lord God in vain"; he would never pro- 
nounce it; even when he came upon the name of Yahveh in his prayers he 
would substitute for it AdonaiLord* Only the Hindus would rival this 

The Fourth Commandment sanctified the weekly day of rest as a Sabbath, 
and passed it down as one of the strongest institutions of mankind. The name, 
and perhaps the custom came from Babylon; shabattu was applied by the 
Babylonians to "tabu" days of abstinence and propitiation. 188 Besides this week- 
ly holyday there were great festivals once Canaanitc vegetation rites remi- 
niscent of sowing and harvesting, and the cycles of moon and sun: Mazzoth 
originally celebrated the beginning of the barley harvest; Shabuoth, later 
called Pentecost, celebrated the end of the wheat harvest; Sukkoth com- 
memorated the vintage; Pesach y or Passover, was the feast of the first fruits 
of the flock; Rosh-ha-shanah announced the New Year; only later were these 
festivals adapted to commemorate vital events in the history of the Jews. lfl8a 
On the first day of the Passover a lamb or kid was sacrificed and eaten, and 
its blood was sprinkled upon the doors as the portion of the god; later the 
priests attached this custom to the story of Yahveh's slaughter of the first- 
born of the Egyptians. The lamb was once a totem of a Canaanite clan; the 

* In Hebrew Yahveh is written as Jhvh; this was erroneously translated into Jehovah 
because the vowels a-o-a had been placed over Jhvh in the original, to indicate that 
Adonai was to be pronounced in place of Yahveh; and the theologians of the Renaissance 
and the Reformation wrongly supposed that these vowels were to be placed between the 
consonants of Jhvb 


Passover, among the Canaanites, was the oblation of a lamb to the local god.* 
As we read (Exod., xi) the story of the establishment of the Passover rite, 
and see the Jews celebrating that same rite steadfastly today, we feel again 
the venerable antiquity of their worship, and the strength and tenacity of 
their race. 

The Fifth Commandment sanctified the family, as second only to the 
Temple in the structure of Jewish society; the ideals then stamped upon 
the institution marked it throughout medieval and modern European 
history until our own disintegrative Industrial Revolution. The Hebrew 
patriarchal family was a vast economic and political organization, com- 
posed of the oldest married male, his wives, his unmarried children, his 
married sons with their wives and children, and perhaps some slaves. 
The economic basis of the institution was its convenience for cultivating 
the soil; its political value lay in its providing a system of social order so 
strong that it made the stateexcept in war almost superfluous. The 
father's authority was practically unlimited; the land was his, and his chil- 
dren could survive only by obedience to him; he was the state. If he was 
poor he could sell his daughter, before her puberty, as a bondservant; and 
though occasionally he condescended to ask her consent, he had full 
right to dispose of her in marriage as he wished. 1 " 8 Boys were supposed 
to be products of the right testicle, girls of the left which was believed 
to be smaller and weaker than the right. 170 At first marriage was matrilocal; 
the man had to "leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife" in her 
clan; but this custom gradually died out after the establishment of the 
monarchy. Yahveh's instructions to the wife were: "Thy desire shall be 
to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Though technically sub- 
ject, the woman was often a person of high authority and dignity; the 
history of the Jews shines with such names as Sarah, Rachel, Miriam and 
Esther; Deborah was one of the judges of Israel, 1 " and it was the prophet- 
ess Huldah whom Josiah consulted about the Book which the priests had 
found in the Temple. 173 The mother of many children was certain of 
security and honor. For the little nation longed to increase and multiply, 
feeling, as in Palestine today, its dangerous numerical inferiority to the 
peoples surrounding it; therefore it exalted motherhood, branded celibacy 
as a sin and a crime, made marriage compulsory after twenty, even in 

* Later this gentle and ancient totem became the Paschal Lamb of Christianity, iden- 
tified with the dead Christ. 


priests, abhorred marriageable virgins and childless women, and looked 
upon abortion, infanticide and other means of limiting population as 
heathen abominations that stank in the nostrils of the Lord. 174 "And when 
Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; 
and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die." 17 * The perfect wife 
was one who labored constantly in and about her home, and had no 
thought except in her husband and her children. The last chapter of 
Proverbs states the male ideal of woman completely: 

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above 
rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he 
shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all 
the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh will- 
ingly with her hands. She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth 
her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth 
meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She consider- 
eth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a 
vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengthened! her 
arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth 
not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands 
hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she 
reachcth forth her hands to the needy. . . . She makcth herself cover- 
ings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is 
known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. 
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivered! girdles unto the 
merchant. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall re- 
joice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in 
her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of 
her household, and eatcth not the bread of idleness. Her children 
arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. 
. . . Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise 
her in the gates.* 

The Sixth Commandment was a counsel of perfection; nowhere is 
there so much killing as in the Old Testament; its chapters oscillate be- 

* This, of course, was the man's ideal; if we may believe Isaiah (iii, 16-23), the real 
women of Jerusalem were very much of this world, loving fine raiment and ornament, 
and leading the men a merry chase. "The daughters of Zion arc haughty, and walk with 
stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, . . . mincing as they go, and making a tinkling 
with their feet," etc. Perhaps the historians have always deceived us about women? 


tween slaughter and compensatory reproduction. Tribal quarrels, internal 
factions and hereditary vendettas broke the monotony of intermittent 
peace. 176 Despite a magnificent verse about ploughshares and pruning- 
hooks, the Prophets were not pacifists, and the priests if we may judge 
from the speeches which they put into the mouth of Yahveh were almost 
as fond of war as of preaching. Among nineteen kings of Israel eight were 
assassinated. 1 " Captured cities were usually destroyed, the males put to 
the sword, and the soil deliberately ruined in the fashion of the times. 171 
Perhaps the figures exaggerate the killing; it is unbelievable that, entirely 
without modern inventions, "the children of Israel slew of the Syrians one 
hundred thousand footmen in one day." 179 Belief in themselves as the 
chosen people 180 intensified the pride natural in a nation conscious of 
superior abilities; it accentuated their disposition to segregate thertiselves 
maritally and mentally from other peoples, and deprived them of the in- 
ternational perspective that their descendants were to attain. But they 
had in high degree the virtues of their qualities. Their violence came of 
unmanageable vitality, their separatism came of their piety, their quarrel- 
someness and qucrulousness came of a passionate sensitivity that produced 
the greatest literature of the Near East; their racial pride was the indis- 
pensable prop of their courage through centuries of suffering. Men are 
what they have had to be. 

The Seventh Commandment recognized marriage as the basis of the 
family, as the Fifth had recognized the family as the basis of society; and 
it offered to marriage all the support of religion. It said nothing about sex 
relations before marriage, but other regulations laid upon the bride the 
obligation, under pain of death by stoning, to prove her virginity on the 
day of her marriage. 181 Nevertheless prostitution was common and ped- 
erasty apparently survived the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. 181 
As the Law did not seem to prohibit relations with foreign harlots, Syrian, 
Moabite, Midianite and other "strange women" flourished along the high- 
ways, where they lived in booths and tents, and combined the trades of 
peddler and prostitute. Solomon, who had no violent prejudices in these 
matters, relaxed the laws that had kept such women out of Jerusalem; in 
time they multiplied so rapidly there that in the days of the Maccabees 
the Temple itself was described by an indignant reformer as full of forni- 
cation and harlotry. 183 

Love affairs probably occurred, for there was much tenderness between 


the sexes; "Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed unto 
him but a few days for the love he had to her." 184 But love played a very 
small role in the choice of mates. Before the Exile marriage was com- 
pletely secular, arranged by the parents, or by the suitor with the parents 
of the bride. Vestiges of capture-marriage are found in the Old Testa- 
ment; Yahveh approves of it in war; 186 and the elders, on the occasion of 
a shortage of women, "commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go 
and lie in wait in the vineyards; and see and behold if the daughters of 
Shiloh come out to dance in dances; then come ye out of the vineyards, 
and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to 
the land of Benjamin." 186 But this was exceptional; usually the marriage 
was by purchase; Jacob purchased Leah and Rachel by his toil, the gentle 
Ruth was quite simply bought by Boaz, and the prophet Hosea regretted 
exceedingly that he had given fifty shekels for his wife. 187 The word for 
wife, beulah, meant owned. 1 " 7 * The father of the bride reciprocated by 
giving his daughter a dowry-an institution admirably adapted to diminish 
the socially disruptive gap between the sexual and the economic matur- 
ity of children in an urban civilization. 

If the man was well-to-do, he might practise polygamy; if the wife 
was barren, like Sarah, she might encourage her husband to take a con- 
cubine. The purpose of these arrangements was prolific reproduction; it 
was taken as a matter of course that after Rachel and Leah had given 
Jacob all the children they were capable of bearing, they should offer 
him their maids, who would also bear him children. 1 A woman was not 
allowed to remain idle in this matter of reproduction; if a husband died, 
his brother, however many wives he might already have, was obliged to 
marry her; or, if the husband had no brother, the obligation fell upon 
his nearest surviving male kin. 180 Since private property was the core of 
Jewish economy, the double standard prevailed: the man might have 
many wives, but the woman was confined to one man. Adultery meant 
relations with a woman who had been bought and paid for by another 
man; it was a violation of the law of property, and was punished with 
death for both parties. 190 Fornication was forbidden to women, but was 
looked upon as a venial offense in men. 1 " 1 Divorce was free to the man, but 
extremely difficult for the woman, until Talmudic days. 1 " 3 The husband 
does not seem to have abused his privileges unduly; he is pictured to us, 
all in all, as zealously devoted to his wife and his children. And though 


love did not determine marriage, it often flowered out of it. "Isaac took 
Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was com- 
forted after" his mother's death." 194 Probably in no other people outside of 
the Far East has family life reached so high a level as among the Jews. 

The Eighth Commandment sanctified private property,* and bound it up 
with religion and the family as one of the three bases of Hebrew society. 
Property was almost entirely in land; until the days of Solomon there was 
little industry beyond that of the potter and the smith. Even agriculture was 
not completely developed; the bulk of the population devoted itself to rear- 
ing sheep and cattle, and tending the vine, the olive and the fig. They lived 
in tents rather than houses, in order to move more easily to fresh pastures. 
In time their growing economic surplus generated trade, and the Jewish mer- 
chants, by their tenacity and their skill, began to flourish in Damascus, Tyre 
and Sidon, and in the precincts of the Temple itself. There was no coinage 
till near the time of the Captivity, but gold and silver, weighed in each trans- 
action, became a medium of exchange, and bankers appeared in great numbers 
to finance commerce and enterprise. It was nothing strange that these 
"money-lenders" should use the courts of the Temple; it was a custom gen- 
eral in the Near East, and survives there in many places to this day. 1 * 9 Yahveh 
beamed upon the growing power of the Hebrew financiers; "thou shalt lend 
unto many nations," he said, "but thou shalt not borrow" 1 " 7 a generous phil- 
osophy that has made great fortunes, though it has not seemed, in our cen- 
tury, to be divinely inspired. 

As in the other countries of the Near East, war captives and convicts were 
used as slaves, and hundreds of thousands of them toiled in cutting timber 
and transporting materials for such public works as Solomon's Temple and 
palace. But the owner had no power of life and death over his slaves, and the 
slave might acquire property and buy his liberty. 108 Men could be sold as 
bondservants for unpaid debts, or could sell their children in their place; and 
this continued to the days of Christ. 100 These typical institutions of the Near 
East were mitigated in Judea by generous charity, and a vigorous campaign, 
by priest and prophet, against exploitation. The Code laid it down hopefully 
that "ye shall not oppress one another" j 200 it asked that Hebrew bondservants 
should be released, and debts among Jews canceled, every seventh year; 5 " 1 and 
when this was found too idealistic for the masters, the Law proclaimed the 
institution of the Jubilee, by which, every fifty years, all slaves and debtors 
should be freed. "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty 

* Theoretically the land belonged to Yahveh. 1 " 6 


throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a Jubilee 
unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall re- 
turn every man unto his family." 101 

We have no evidence that this fine edict was obeyed, but we must give 
credit to the priests for leaving no lesson in charity untaught. "If there be 
among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, . . . thou shalt open thine 
hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need"; and 
"take thou no usury" (i.e., interest) "of him." 308 The Sabbath rest was to be 
extended to every employee, even to animals; stray sheaves and fruits were to 
be left in the fields and orchards for the poor to glean. 10 * And though these 
charities were largely for fellow Jews, "the stranger in the gates" was also to 
be treated with kindness; the sojourner was to be sheltered and fed, and dealt 
with honorably. At all times the Jews were bidden to remember that they, 
too, had once been homeless, even bondservants, in a foreign land. 

The Ninth Commandment, by demanding absolute honesty of witnesses, 
put the prop of religion under the whole structure of Jewish law. An oath 
was to be a religious ceremony: not merely was a man, in swearing, to place 
his hand on the genitals of him to whom he swore, as in the old custom;** he 
was now to be taking God himself as his witness and his judge. False wit- 
nesses, according to the Code, were to receive the same punishment that their 
testimony had sought to bring upon their victims. 208 Religious law was the 
sole law of Israel; the priests and the temples were the judges and the courts; 
and those who refused to accept the decision of the priests were to be put to 
death. 807 Ordeal by the drinking of poisonous water was prescribed in certain 
cases of doubtful guilt. 3 " 8 There was no other than religious machinery for 
enforcing the law; it had to be left to personal conscience, and public opinion. 
Minor crimes might be atoned for by confession and compensation. 5 ** Capital 
punishment was decreed, by Yahveh's instructions, for murder, kidnaping, 
idolatry, adultery, striking or cursing a parent, stealing a slave, or "lying with 
a beast," but not for the killing of a servant;" and "thou shalt not suffer a 
witch to live." 211 Yahveh was quite satisfied to have the individual take the 
law into his own hands in case of murder: "The revenger of blood, himself 
shall slay the murderer; when he mecteth him, he shall slay him." 212 Certain 
cities, however, were to be set apart, to which a criminal might flee, and in 
which the avenger must stay his revenge. 213 In general the principle of punish- 
ment was the lex talionis: "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for 
hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, stripe for stripe" 214 we trust that 
this was a counsel of perfection, never quite realized. The Mosaic Code, 
though written down at least fifteen hundred years later, shows no advance, 
in criminal legislation, upon the Code of Hammurabi; in legal organization it 
shows an archaic retrogression to primitive ecclesiastical control. 


The Tenth Commandment reveals how clearly woman was conceived 
under the rubric of property. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, 
thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid- 
servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.""* Never- 
theless, it was an admirable precept; could men follow it, half the fever and 
anxiety of our life would be removed. Strange to say, the greatest of the 
commandments is not listed among the Ten, though it is part of the "Law." 
It occurs in Leviticus, xix, 18, lost amid "a repetition of sundry laws," and 
reads very simply: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." 

In general it was a lofty code, sharing its defects with its age, and 
rising to virtues characteristically its own. We must remember that it 
was only a law indeed, only a "priestly Utopia"* 8 rather than a descrip- 
tion of Jewish life; like other codes, it was honored plentifully in the 
breach, and won new praise with every violation. But its influence upon 
the conduct of the people was at least as great as that of most legal 
or moral codes. It gave to the Jews, through the two thousand years of 
wandering which they were soon to begin, a "portable Fatherland," as 
Heine was to call it, an intangible and spirtual state; it kept them united 
despite every dispersion, proud despite every defeat, and brought them 
across the centuries to our own time, a strong and apparently indestructi- 
ble people. 


History Fiction Poetry The Psalms The Song of Songs 

Proverbs Job The idea of immortality The pessimism of 

EcclesiastesThe advent of Alexander 

The Old Testament is not only law; it is history, poetry and philos- 
ophy of the highest order. After making every deduction for primitive 
legend and pious fraud, after admitting that the historical books are not 
quite as accurate or as ancient as our forefathers supposed, we find in 
them, nevertheless, not merely some of the oldest historical writing known 
to us, but some of the best. The books of Judges, Samuel and Kings may, 
as some scholars believe, 217 have been put together hastily during or 
shortly after the Exile to collect and preserve the national traditions of a 
scattered and broken people; nevertheless the stories of Saul, David and 
Solomon are immeasurably finer in structure and style than the other his- 
torical writing of the ancient Near East. Even Genesis, if we read it with 
some understanding of the function of legend, is (barring its genealogies) 


an admirable story, told without frill or ornament, with simplicity, vivid- 
ness and force. And in a sense we have here not mere history, but philos- 
ophy of history; this is the first recorded effort of man to reduce the 
multiplicity of past events to a measure of unity by seeking in them some 
pervading purpose and significance, some law of sequence and causation, 
some illumination for the present and the future. The conception of his- 
tory promulgated by the Prophets and the priestly authors of the Penta- 
teuch survived a thousand years of Greece and Rome to become the 
world-view of European thinkers from Boethius to Bossuet. 

Midway between the history and the poetry are the fascinating ro- 
mances of the Bible. There is nothing more perfect in the realm of prose 
than the story of Ruth; only less excellent are the tales of Isaac and Re- 
becca, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin, Samson and Delilah, 
Esther, Judith and Daniel. The poetical literature begins with the "Song 
of Moses" (Exod. xv) and the "Song of Deborah" (Judges v), and 
reaches finally to the heights of the Psalms. The "penitential" hymns of 
the Babylonians had prepared for these, and perhaps had given them 
material as well as form; Ikhnaton's ode to the sun seems to have contrib- 
uted to Psalm CIV; and the majority of the Psalms, instead of being the 
impressively united work of David, are probably the compositions of 
several poets writing long after the Captivity, probably in the third cen- 
tury before Christ. 218 But all this is as irrelevant as the name or sources of 
Shakespeare; what matters is that the Psalms are at the head of the world's 
lyric poetry. They were not meant to be read at a sitting, or in a Higher 
Critic's mood; they are at their best as expressing moments of pious ecstasy 
and stimulating faith. They are marred for us by bitter imprecations, tire- 
some "groanings" and complaints, and endless adulation of a Yahveh who, 
with all his "lovingkindncss," "longsuffering" and "compassion," pours 
"smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth" (VIII), promises 
that "the wicked shall be turned into hell" (IX), laps up flattery,* and 
threatens to "cut off all flattering lips" (XII). The Psalms are full of 
military ardor, hardly Christian, but very Pilgrim. Some of them, how- 
ever, are jewels of tenderness, or cameos of humility. "Verily every 
man at his best state is altogether vanity. ... As for man, his days are 
as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth 
over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more" 

*Psalm is a Greek word, meaning "song of praise." 


(XXIX, CIII) . In these songs we feel the antistrophic rhythm of ancient 
Oriental poetry, and almost hear the voices of majestic choirs in alternate 
answering. No poetry has ever excelled this in revealing metaphor or 
living imagery; never has religious feeling been more intensely or vividly 
expressed. These poems touch us more deeply than any lyric of love; 
they move even the sceptical soul, for they give passionate form to the 
final longing of the developed mind for some perfection to which it may 
dedicate its striving. Here and there, in the King James' Version, are 
pithy phrases that have become almost words in our language "out of 
the mouths of babes" (VIII), "the apple of the eye" (XVII), "put not 
your trust in princes" (CXLVI); and everywhere, in the original, are 
similes that have never been surpassed: "The rising sun is as a bridegroom 
coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race" 
(XIX). We can only imagine what majesty and beauty must clothe these 
songs in the sonorous language of their origin.* 

When, beside these Psalms, we place in contrast the "Song of Solo- 
mon," we get a glimpse of that sensual and terrestrial element in Jewish 
life which the Old Testament, written almost entirely by prophets and 
priests, has perhaps concealed from us just as Ecclcsiastcs reveals a scepti- 
cism not otherwise discernible in the carefully selected and edited litera- 
ture of the ancient Jews. This strangely amorous composition is an open 
field for surmise: it may be a collection of songs of Babylonian origin, 
celebrating the love of Ishtar and Tammux; it may be (since it contains 
words borrowed from the Greek) the work of several Hebrew Anacreons 
touched by the Hellenistic spirit that entered Judea with Alexander; or 
(since the lovers address each other as brother and sister in the Egyptian 
manner) it may be a flower of Alexandrian Jewry, plucked by some 
quite emancipated soul from the banks of the Nile. In any case its pres- 
ence in the Bible is a charming mystery: by what winking or hood- 
winkingof the theologians did these songs of lusty passion find room 
between Isaiah and the Preacher? 

A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night 

betwixt my breasts. 
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of 


*A selection of the best Psalms would probably include VIII, XXIII, LI, CIV, 
CXXXVII and CXXXIX. The last is strangely like Whitman's pxan to evolution.** 


Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove's 

Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our bed is 

green. ... -| 

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. . . . 
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of 

love. . . . 
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, or by the 

hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he 

please. . . . 

My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies. 
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, 

and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of 

Bether. . . . 
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field, let us lodge in the 

Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, 

whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth; 

there will I give thee my loves." 

This is the voice of youth, and that of the Proverbs is the voice of old 
age. Men look to love and life for everything; they receive a little less 
than that; they imagine that they have received nothing: these are the 
three stages of the pessimist. So this legendary Solomon* warns youth 
against the evil woman, "for she hath cast down many wounded; yea, 
many strong men have been slain by her. . . . Whoso committeth adultery 
with a woman lacketh understanding. . . . There be three things which 
are wonderful to me; yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle 
in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the 
midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid." 821 He agrees with 
St. Paul that it is better to marry than to burn. "Rejoice with the wife 
of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and the pleasant roe; let her 
breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her 
love. . . . Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox with 
hatred therewith."" Can these be the words of the husband of seven 
hundred wives? 

The Proverbs, of course, are not the work of Solomon, though several of them may 
hive come from him; they owe something to Egyptian literature and Greek philosophy, 
and were probably put together in the third or second century B.C. by some Hellenized 
Alexandrian Jew. 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 343 

Next to unchastity, in the way from wisdom, is sloth: "Go to the ant, 
thou sluggard. . . . How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard?""* "Seest thou 
a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings."* 4 Yet will 
the Philosopher not brook crass ambition. "He that maketh haste to be 
rich shall not be innocent"; and "the prosperity of fools shall destroy 
them." 2 " 5 Work is wisdom, words are mere folly. "In all labor there 
is profit, but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury. ... A fool 
uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards; . . . 
even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise."*" The lesson 
which the Sage never tires of repeating is an almost Socratic identification 
of virtue and wisdom, redolent of those schools of Alexandria in which 
Hebrew theology was mating with Greek philosophy to form the intellect 
of Europe. "Understanding is a well-spring of life unto him that hath 
it; but the instruction of fools is folly. . . . Happy is the man that 
findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding; for the mer- 
chandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof 
than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all things thou 
canst desire are not to be compared with her. Length of days is in her 
right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways 
of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." 137 

Job is earlier than Proverbs; perhaps it was written during the Exile, 
and described by allegory the captives of Babylon.* "I call it," says the 
perfervid Carlyle, "one of the grandest things ever written with a pen. 
... A noble book; all* men's book! It is our first, oldest statement of the 
never-ending problem man's destiny, and God's ways with him here on 
this earth. . . . There is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of 
it, of equal literary merit." 380 ' The problem arose out of the Hebrew 
emphasis on this world. Since there was no Heaven in ancient Jewish 
theology, 231 virtue had to be rewarded here or never. But often it seemed 
that only the wicked prospered, and that the choicest sufferings are re- 
served for the good man. Why, as the Psalmist complained, did the "un- 
godly prosper in the world? " asa Why did God hide himself, instead of 

* Scholarship assigns it tentatively to the fifth century B.C.** Its text is corrupt beyond 
even the custom of sacred scriptures everywhere. Jastrow accepts only chapters iii-xxxi, 
considers the rest to be edifying emendations, and suspects many interpolations and mis- 
translations in the accepted chapters. E.g., "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" 
(xiii, 5) should be, "Yet I tremble not," or "Yet I have no hope." 2 * Kallcn and others have 
found in the book the likeness of a Greek tragedy, written on the model of Euripides.* 
Chapters iii-xli are cast in the typical antistrophic form of Hebrew poetry. 


punishing the evil and rewarding the good?* 33 The author of Job now 
asked the same questions more resolutely, and offered his hero, perhaps, 
as a symbol for his people. All Israel had worshiped Yahveh (fitfully), 
as Job had done; Babylon had ignored and blasphemed Yahveh; and yet 
Babylon flourished, and Israel ate the dust and wore the sackcloth of 
desolation and captivity. What could one say of such a god? 

In a prologue in heaven, which some clever scribe may have inserted 
to take the scandal out of the book, Satan suggests to Yahveh that Job 
is "perfect and upright" only because he is fortunate; would he retain 
his piety in adversity? Yahveh permits Satan to heap a variety of calami- 
ties upon Job's head. For a time the hero is as patient as Job; but at last 
his fortitude breaks, he ponders suicide, and bitterly reproaches his god 
for forsaking him. Zophar, who has come out to enjoy the sufferings of 
his friend, insists that God is just, and will yet reward the good man, 
even on earth; but Job shuts him up sharply: 

No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. 
But I have understanding as well as you; . . . yea, who knoweth not 
these things? . . . The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that 
provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly. 

.... Lo, mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and 
understood it. ... But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of 
no value. Oh, that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it 
should be your wisdom. 884 

He reflects on the brevity of life, and the length of death: 

Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. 
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he flceth also as 
a shadow, and continued! not. . . . For there is hope of a tree, 
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender 
branch thereof will not cease. . . . But man dieth, and wasteth 
away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the 
waters fall from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up, so 
man lieth down, and riseth not. ... If a man die, shall he live 
again?* 35 

The debate continues vigorously, and Job becomes more and more 
sceptical of his God, until he calls him "Adversary," and wishes that this 
Adversary would destroy himself by writing a book*** perhaps some 


Leibnitzian theodicy. The concluding words of this chapter <c The words 
of Job are ended" suggest that this was the original termination of a 
discourse which, like that of Ecclesiates, represented a strong heretical 
minority among the Jews.* But a fresh philosopher enters at this point 
Elihu who demonstrates, in one hundred and sixty-five verses, the justice 
of God's ways with men. Finally, in one of the most majestic passages 
in the Bible, a voice comes down out of the clouds: 

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 
Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and 
answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of 
the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the 
measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched his line 
upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or 
who laid the cornerstone thereof; when the morning stars sang 
together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut 
up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out 
of the womb? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and 
thick darkness a swaddling band for it, and brake up for it my de- 
creed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou 
come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed? 
Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the 
dayspring to know his place? . . . Hast thou entered into the 
springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth? 
Have the gates of death been opened unto thcc? or hast thou seen 
the doors of the shadow of death? Hast thou perceived the breath 
of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all. ... Hast thou entered 
into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of 
the hail? . . . Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, 
or loose the bands of Orion? . . . Knowest thou the ordinances of 
heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? . . . 
Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts, or who hath given 
understanding to the heart? . . . 

* "The sceptic," wrote that prolific sceptic, Rcnan, "writes little, and there are many 
chances that his writings will be lost. The destiny of the Jewish people having been ex- 
clusively religious, the secular part of its literature had to be sacrificed." 286 The repetition 
of "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" in the Psalms (XIV, i; LIII, i), 
indicates that such fools were sufficiently numerous to create some stir in Israel. There is 
apparently a reference to this minority in Zephaniah, i, 12. 


Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that 
reproveth God, let him answer it.* 7 

Job humbles himself in terror before this apparition. Yahveh, appeased, 
forgives him, accepts his sacrifice, denounces Job's friends for their feeble 
arguments,* 8 and gives Job fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, 
a thousand yoke of oxen, a thousand she-asses, seven sons, three daughters, 
and one hundred and forty years. It is a lame but happy ending; Job 
receives everything but an answer to his questions. The problem re- 
mained; and it was to have profound effects upon later Jewish thought. In 
the days of Daniel (ca. 167 B.C.) it was to be abandoned as insoluble in terms 
of this world; no answer could be given Daniel and Enoch (and Kant) 
would say unless one believed in some other life, beyond the grave, in 
, which all wrongs would be righted, the wicked would be punished, and 
the just would inherit infinite reward. This was one of the varied currents 
of thought that flowed into Christianity, and carried it to victory. 

In Ecclesiastes* the problem is given a pessimistic reply; prosperity 
and misfortune have nothing to do with virtue and vice. 

All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just 
man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man 
that prolongcth his life in his wickedness. ... So I returned, and 
considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and be- 
held the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no com- 
forter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power. . . . 
If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of 
judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter, . . . 
for there be higher than they. 341 

It is not virtue and vice that determine a man's lot, but blind and merciless 
chance. "I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the 
battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men 
of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance 
happeneth to them all."* 41 Even wealth is insecure, and does not long 
bring happiness. "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; 
nor he that loveth abundance, with increase: this is also vanity. . . . The 

* The authorship and date of the book are quite unknown. Sarton attributes it to the 
period between 250 and 168 B.C.** The author calls himself, by a confusing literary fiction, 
both "Koheleth" and "the son of David, king in Jerusalem"-i.e., Solomon.* 40 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 347 

sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much; but the 
abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep." 84 * Remembering his 
relatives, he formulates Malthus in a line: "When goods are increased, 
they are increased that eat them."** Nor can he be soothed by any legend 
of a Golden Past, or a Utopia to come: things have always been as they 
are now, and so they will always be. "Say not thou, What is the cause 
that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire 
wisely concerning this";** 5 one must choose his historians carefully. And 
"the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done 
is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Is 
there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been 
already of old time, which was before us." 8 * Progress, he thinks, is a 
delusion; civilizations have been forgotten, and will be again. 9 * 7 

In general he feels that life is a sorry business, and might well be dis- 
pensed with; it is aimless and circuitous motion without permanent result, 
and ends where it began; it is a futile struggle, in which nothing is certain 
except defeat. 

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is 
vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh 
under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation 
cometh; but the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseth, and the 
wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it 
whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according 
to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not 
full; unto the place from whence the rivers came, thither they re- 
turn again. . . . Wherefore I praised the dead which are already 
dead, more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he, 
than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the 
evil work that is done under the sun. ... A good name is better 
than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's 
birth. 848 

For a time he seeks the answer to the riddle of life in abandonment to 
pleasure. "Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better 
thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry." But 
"behold, this also is vanity."" 9 The difficulty with pleasure is woman, 
from whom the Preacher seems to have received some unforgettable sting. 
"One man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those 


have I not found. ... I find more bitter than death the woman whose 
heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands; whoso pleaseth God shall 
escape her."* 1 He concludes his digression into this most obscure realm 
of philosophy by reverting to the advice of Solomon and Voltaire, who 
did not practise it: "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest, all 
the days of the life of thy vanity which God hath given thee under the 
sun."* 8 

Even wisdom is a questionable thing; he lauds it generously, but he 
suspects that anything more than a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. 
"Of making many books," he writes, with uncanny foresight, "there is 
no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh." 3 * 3 It might be wise 
to seek wisdom if God had given it a better income; "wisdom is good, 
with an inheritance"; otherwise it is a snare, and is apt to destroy its 
lovers. 354 (Truth is like Yahveh, who said to Moses: "Thou canst not see 
my face; for there shall no man see me and live." 3156 ) In the end the wise 
man dies as thoroughly as the fool, and both come to the same odor. 

And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom con- 
cerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath 
God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have 
seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is 
vanity and a chasing after the wind. ... I communed with mine 
own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten 
more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jeru- 
salem; yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowl- 
edge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness 
and folly; I perceived that this also is a chasing after the wind. For 
in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increased! knowledge 
increased! sorrow. 986 

All these darts of outrageous fortune might be borne with hope and 
courage if the just man could look forward to some happiness beyond 
the grave. But that, too, Ecclesiastes feels, is a myth; man is an animal, 
and dies like any other beast. 

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even 
one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, 
they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence over a 
beast; for all is vanity. All go unto one place: all are of the dust, 

CHAP. XIl) J U D E A 349 

and all turn to dust again. . . . Wherefore I perceive that there is 
nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works; 
for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see what shall be 
after him? . . . Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy 
might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom 
in the grave, whither thou goest.* 7 

What a commentary on the wisdom so lauded in the Proverbs! Here, 
evidently, civilization had for a time gone to seed. The vitality of Israel's 
youth had been exhausted by her struggles against the empires that 
surrounded her. The Yahveh in whom she had trusted had not come 
to her aid; and in her desolation and dispersion she raised to the skies this 
bitterest of all voices in literature to express the profoundest doubts that 
ever come to the human soul. 

Jerusalem had been restored, but not as the citadel of an unconquerable 
god; it was a vassal city ruled now by Persia, now by Greece. In 334 
B.C. the young Alexander stood at its gates, and demanded the surrender 
of the capital. The high-priest at first refused; but the next morning, 
having had a dream, he consented. He ordered the clergy to put on their 
most impressive vestments, and the people to garb themselves in immac- 
ulate white; then he led the population pacifically out through the gates 
to solicit peace. Alexander bowed to the high-priest, expressed his ad- 
miration for the people and their god, and accepted Jerusalem. 858 

It was not the end of Judea. Only the first act had been played in this 
strange drama that binds forty centuries. Christ would be the second, 
Ahasuerus the third; today another act is played, but it is not the last. 
Destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt, Jerusalem rises again, symbol 
of the vitality and pertinacity of an heroic race. The Jews, who are as 
old as history, may be as lasting as civilization. 




Their origins RulersThe blood treaty of Sardis Degeneration 

WHO were the Medes that had played so vital a role in the destruc- 
tion of Assyria? Their origin, of course, eludes us; history is a 
book that one must begin in the middle. The first mention we have of them 
is on a tablet recording the expedition of Shalmaneser III into a country 
called Parsua, in the mountains of Kurdistan (837 B.C.); there, it seems, 
twenty-seven chieftain-kings ruled over twenty-seven states thinly popu- 
lated by a people called Amadai, Madai, Medes. As Indo-Europeans they 
had probably come into western Asia about a thousand years before 
Christ, from the shores of the Caspian Sea. The Zend-Avesta, sacred 
scriptures of the Persians, idealized the racial memory of this ancient 
home-land, and described it as a paradise: the scenes of our youth, like 
the past, are always beautiful if we do not have to live in them again. 
The Medes appear to have wandered through the region of Bokhara and 
Samarkand, and to have migrated farther and farther south, at last reach- 
ing Persia. 1 They found copper, iron, lead, gold and silver, marble and 
precious stones, in the mountains in which they made their new home;* 
and being a simple and vigorous people they developed a prosperous agri- 
culture on the plains and the slopes of the hills. 

At Ecbatana* i.e., "a meeting-place of many ways" in a picturesque 
valley made fertile by the melting snows of the highlands, their first 
king, Deioces, founded their first capital, adorning and dominating it with 
a royal palace spread over an area two-thirds of a mile square. According 
to an uncorroborated passage in Herodotus, Deioces achieved power by 
acquiring a reputation for justice, and having achieved power, became 
a despot. He issued regulations "that no man should be admitted to the 
King's presence, but every one should consult him by means of messen- 
gers; and moreover, that it should be accounted indecency for any one 

* Probably the modern Hamadan. 



to laugh or spit before him. He established such ceremony about his 
person for this reason, . . . that he might appear to be of a different 
nature to them who did not see him." 1 Under his leadership the Medes, 
strengthened by their natural and frugal life, and hardened by custom 
and environment to the necessities of war, became a threat to the power 
of Assyria which repeatedly invaded Media, thought it most instructively 
defeated, and found it in fact never tired of fighting for its liberty. The 
greatest of the Median kings, Cyaxares, settled the matter by destroying 
Nineveh. Inspired by this victory, his army swept through western Asia 
to the very gates of Sardis, only to be turned back by an eclipse of the 
sun. The opposing leaders, frightened by this apparent warning from 
/ the skies, signed a treaty of peace, and sealed it by drinking each other's 
blood. 4 In the next year Cyaxares died, having in the course of one reign 
expanded his kingdom from a subject province into an empire embracing 
Assyria, Media and Persia. Within a generation after his death this 
empire came to an end. 

Its tenure was too brief to permit of any substantial contribution to 
civilization, except in so far as it prepared for the culture of Persia. To 
Persia the Medes gave their Aryan language, their alphabet of thirty-six 
characters, their replacement of clay with parchment and pen as writing 
materials, 8 their extensive use of the column in architecture, their moral 
code of conscientious husbandry in time of peace and limitless bravery 
in time of war, their Zoroastrian religion of Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman, 
their patriarchal family and polygamous marriage, and a body of law 
sufficiently like that of the later empire to be united with it in the famous 
phrase of Daniel about "the law of the Medes and the Persians, which 
altereth not." 6 Of their literature and their art not a stone or a letter 

Their degeneration was even more rapid than their rise. Astyages, 

} who succeeded his father Cyaxares, proved again that monarchy is a 

I gamble, in whose royal succession great wits and madness are near allied. 

He inherited the kingdom with equanimity, and settled down to enjoy 

it. Under his example the nation forgot its stern morals and stoic ways; 

wealth had come too suddenly to be wisely used. The upper classes 

became the slaves of fashion and luxury, the men wore embroidered 

trousers, the women covered themselves with cosmetics and jewelry, 

the very horses were often caparisoned in gold. T These once simple and 

pastoral people, who had been glad to be carried in rude wagons with 


wheels cut roughly out of the trunks of trees, 8 now rode in expensive 
chariots from feast to feast. The early kings had prided themselves on 
justice; but Astyages, being displeased with Harpagus, served up to him 
the dismembered and headless body of his own son, and forced him to 
eat of it." Harpagus ate, saying that whatever a king did was agreeable 
to him; but he revenged himself by helping Cyrus to depose Astyages. 
When Cyrus, the brilliant young ruler of the Median dependency of 
Anshan, in Persia, rebelled against the effeminate despot of Ecbatana, the 
Medes themselves welcomed Cyrus' victory, and accepted him, almost 
without protest, as their king. By one engagement Media ceased to be the 
master of Persia, Persia became the master of Media, and prepared to 
become master of the whole Near Eastern world. 


The romantic Cyrus His enlightened policies Cambyses Darius 
the GreatThe invasion of Greece 

Cyrus was one of those natural rulers at whose coronation, as Emerson 
said, all men rejoice. Royal in spirit and action, capable of wise adminis- 
tration as well as of dramatic conquest, generous to the defeated and 
loved by those who had been his enemies no wonder the Greeks made 
him the subject of innumerable romances, and to their minds the 
greatest hero before Alexander. It is a disappointment to us that we 
cannot draw a reliable picture of him from either Herodotus or Xeno- 
phon. The former has mingled many fables with his history, 10 while the 
other has made the Cyroptfdia an essay on the military art, with incidental 
lectures on education and philosophy; at times Xenophon confuses Cyrus 
and Socrates. These delightful stories being put aside, the figure of Cyrus 
becomes merely an attractive ghost. We can only say that he was hand- 
somesince the Persians made him their model of physical beauty to the 
end of their ancient art; 11 that he established the Achaemenid Dynasty of 
"Great Kings," which ruled Persia through the most famous period of 
its history; that he organized the soldiery of Media and Persia into an 
invincible army, captured Sardis and Babylon, ended for a thousand 
years the rule of the Semites in western Asia, and absorbed the former 
realms of Assyria, Babylonia, Lydia and Asia Minor into the Persian 
Empire, the largest political organization of pre-Roman antiquity, and 
one of the best-governed in history. 

CHAP, xm) PERSIA 353 

So far as we can visualize him through the haze of legend, he was the 
most amiable of conquerors, and founded his empire upon generosity. 
His enemies knew that he was lenient, and they did not fight him with 
that desperate courage which men show when their only choice is to 
kill or die. We have seen how, according to Herodotus, he rescued 
Croesus from the funeral pyre at Sardis, and made him one of his most 
honored counselors; and we have seen how magnanimously he treated the 
Jews. The first principle of his policy was that the various peoples of his 
empire should be left free in their religious worship- and beliefs, for he 
fully understood the first principle of statesmanship that religion is 
stronger than the state. Instead of sacking cities and wrecking temples 
he showed a courteous respect for the deities of the conquered, and con- 
tributed to maintain their shrines; even the Babylonians, who had resisted 
him so long, warmed towards him when they found him preserving their 
sanctuaries and honoring their pantheon. Wherever he went in his un- 
precedented career he offered pious sacrifice to the local divinities. Like 
Napoleon he accepted indifferently all religions, and with much better 
' grace humored all the gods. 

Like Napoleon, too, he died of excessive ambition. Having won all 
the Near East, he began a series of campaigns aimed to free Media and 
Persia from the inroads of central Asia's nomadic barbarians. He seems to 
have carried these excursions as far as the Jaxartes on the north and India 
on the east. Suddenly, at the height of his curve, he was slain in battle with 
the Massagetx, an obscure tribe that peopled the southern shores of the 
Caspian Sea. Like Alexander he conquered an empire, but did not live 
to organize it. 

One great defect had sullied his character occasional and incalculable 
cruelty. It was inherited, unmixed with Cyrus' generosity, by his half- 
mad son. Cambyses began by putting to death his brother and rival, 
Smerdis; then, lured by the accumulated wealth of Egypt, he set forth 
to extend the Persian Empire to the Nile. He succeeded, but apparently 
at the cost of his sanity. Memphis was captured easily, but an army of 
fifty thousand Persians sent to annex the Oasis of Ammon perished in 
the desert, and an expedition to Carthage failed because the Phoenician 
crews of the Persian fleet refused to attack a Phoenician colony. Cambyses 
lost his head, and abandoned the wise clemency and tolerance of his 
father. He publicly scoffed at the Egyptian religion, and plunged his 
dagger derisively into the bull revered by the Egyptians as the god Apis; 


he exhumed mummies and pried into royal tombs regardless of ancient 
curses; he profaned the temples and ordered their idols to be burned. 
He thought in this way to cure the Egyptians of superstition; but when 
he was stricken with illness apparently epileptic convulsions the 
Egyptians were certain that their gods had punished him, and that their 
theology was now confirmed beyond dispute. As if again to illustrate 
the inconveniences of monarchy, Cambyses, with a Napoleonic kick in 
the stomach, killed his sister and wife Roxana, slew his son Prexaspes 
with an arrow, buried twelve noble Persians alive, condemned Croesus 
to death, repented, rejoiced to learn that the sentence had not been 
carried out, and punished the officers who had delayed in executing it." 
On his way back to Persia he learned that a usurper had seized the throne 
and was being supported by widespread revolution. From that moment 
he disappears from history; tradition has it that he killed himself. 1 * 

The usurper had pretended to be Smerdis, miraculously preserved from 
Cambyses' fratricidal jealousy; in reality he was a religious fanatic, a 
devotee of the early Magian faith who was bent upon destroying 
Zoroastrianism, the official religion of the Persian state. Another revolu- 
tion soon deposed him, and the seven aristocrats who had organized it 
raised one of their number, Darius, son of Hystaspes, to the throne. 
In this bloody way began the reign of Persia's greatest king. 

Succession to the throne, in Oriental monarchies, was marked not only 
by palace revolutions in strife for the royal power, but by uprisings in 
subject colonies that grasped the chance of chaos, or an inexperienced 
ruler, to reclaim their liberty. The usurpation and assassination of 
"Smerdis" gave to Persia's vassals an excellent opportunity: the governors 
of Egypt and Lydia refused submission, and the provinces of Susiana, 
Babylonia, Media, Assyria, Armenia, Sacia and others rose in simultaneous 
revolt. Darius subdued them with a ruthless hand. Taking Babylon after 
a long siege, he crucified three thousand of its leading citizens as an induce- 
ment to obedience in the rest; and in a series of swift campaigns he 
"pacified" one after another of the rebellious states. Then, perceiving 
how easily the vast empire might in any crisis fall to pieces, he put off 
the armor of war, became one of the wisest administrators in history, and 
set himself to reestablish his realm in a way that became a model of 
imperial organization till the fall of Rome. His rule gave western Asia 
a generation of such order and prosperity as that quarrelsome region had 
never known before. 

CHAP, xm) PERSIA 355 

He had hoped to govern in peace, but it is the fatality of empire to 
breed repeated war. For the conquered must be periodically reconquered, 
and the conquerors must keep the arts and habits of camp and battle- 
field; and at any moment the kaleidoscope of change may throw up a 
new empire to challenge the old. In such a situation wars must be invented 
if they do not arise of their own accord; each generation must be inured 
to the rigors of campaigns, and taught by practice the sweet decorum 
of dying for one's country. 

Perhaps it was in part for this reason that Darius led his armies into 
southern Russia, across the Bosphorus and the Danube to the Volga, to 
chastise the marauding Scythians; and again across Afghanistan and a 
hundred mountain ranges into the valley of the Indus, adding thereby 
extensive regions and millions of souls and rupees to his realm. More 
substantial reasons must be sought for his expedition into Greece. Herod- 
otus would have us believe that Darius entered upon this historic f aux pas 
because one of his wives, Atossa, teased him into it in bed; 1 * but it is more 
dignified to believe that the King recognized in the Greek city-states 
and their colonies a potential empire, or an actual confederacy, dangerous 
to the Persian mastery of western Asia. When Ionia revolted and received 
aid from Sparta and Athens, Darius reconciled himself reluctantly to war. 
All the world knows the story of his passage across the ^Egean, the defeat 
of his army at Marathon, and his gloomy return to Persia. There, amid 
far-flung preparations for another attempt upon Greece, he suddenly 
grew weak, and died. 


The empire The people The language The peasants The im- 
perial highways Trade and finance 

At its greatest extent, under Darius, the Persian Empire included twenty 
provinces or "satrapies," embracing Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Phoenicia, 
Lydia, Phrygia, Ionia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Armenia, Assyria, the Cau- 
casus, Babylonia, Media, Persia, the modern Afghanistan and Baluchistan, 
India west of the Indus, Sogdiana, Bactria, and the regions of the Massa- 
getae and other central Asiatic tribes. Never before had history recorded 
so extensive an area brought under one government. 

Persia itself, which was to rule these forty million souls for two hun- 
dred years, was not at that time the country now known to us as Persia^ 


and to its inhabitants as Iran; it was that smaller tract, immediately east of 
the Persian Gulf, known to the ancient Persians as Pars, and to the modern 
Persians as Pars or Farsistan. Composed almost entirely of mountains and 
deserts, poor in rivers, subject to severe winters and hot, arid summers,* 
it could support its two million inhabitants 17 only through such external 
contributions as trade or conquest might bring. Its race of hardy moun- 
taineers came, like the Medes, of Indo-European stock perhaps from South 
Russia; and its language and early religion reveal its close kinship with those 
Aryans who crossed Afghanistan to become the ruling caste of northern 
India. Darius I, in an inscription at Naksh-i-Rustam, described himself as 
"a Persian, the son of a Persian, an Aryan of Aryan descent." The Zoro- 
astrians spoke of their primitive land as Airy ana-vaejo "the Aryan home."t 
Strabo applied the name Ariana to what is now called by essentially the 
same word Iran 

The Persians were apparently the handsomest people of the ancient Near 
East. The monuments picture them as erect and vigorous, made hardy by 
their mountains and yet refined by their wealth, with a pleasing symmetry 
of features, an almost Greek straightness of nose, and a certain nobility of 
countenance and carriage. They adopted for the most part the Median 
dress, and later the Median ornaments. They considered it indecent to re- 
veal more than the face; clothing covered them from turban, fillet or cap 
to sandals or leather shoes. Triple drawers, a white under-garment of linen, 
a double tunic, with sleeves hiding the hands, and a girdle at the waist, kept 
the population warm in winter and hot in summer. The king distinguished 
himself with embroidered trousers of a crimson hue, and saffron-buttoned 
shoes. The dress of the women differed from that of the men only in a 
slit at the breast. The men wore long beards and hung their hair in curls, 
or, later, covered it with wigs. 10 In the wealthier days of the empire men 
as well as women made much use of cosmetics; creams were employed to 
improve the complexion, and coloring matter was applied to the eyelids to 
increase the apparent size and brilliance of the eyes. A special class of 
"adorners," called kosmctai by the Greeks, arose as beauty experts to the 
aristocracy. The Persians were connoisseurs in scents, and were believed by 
the ancients to have invented cosmetic creams. The king never went to 
war without a case of costly unguents to ensure his fragrance in victory or 
defeat. 80 

Many languages have been used in the long history of Persia. The speech 
of the court and the nobility in the days of Darius I was Old Persian so 

* At Susa, says Strabo, the summer heat was so intense that snakes and lizards could not 
cross the streets quickly enough to escape being burned to death by the sun." 
t Generally identified with the district of Arran on the river Araxes. 


closely related to Sanskrit that evidently both were once dialects of an older 
tongue, and were cousins to our own.* Old Persian developed on the one 
hand into Zend the language of the Zend-Avesta and on the other hand into 
Pahlavi, a Hindu tongue from which has come the Persian language of to- 
day." When the Persians took to writing they adopted the Babylonian 
cuneiform for their inscriptions, and the Aramaic alphabetic script for their 
documents. 28 They simplified the unwieldly syllabary of the Babylonians 
from three hundred characters to thirty-six signs which gradually became 
letters instead of syllables, and constituted a cuneiform alphabet. 1 * Writing, 
however, seemed to the Persians an effeminate amusement, for which they 
could spare little time from love, war and the chase. They did not con- 
descend to produce literature. 

The common man was contentedly illiterate, and gave himself com- 
pletely to the culture of the soil. The Zend-Avesta exalted agriculture as 
the basic and noblest occupation of mankind, pleasing above all other 
labors to Ahura-Mazda, the supreme god. Some of the land was tilled by 
peasant proprietors, who occasionally joined several families in agricultural 
cooperatives to work extensive areas together. 20 Part of the land was owned 
by feudal barons, and cultivated by tenants in return for a share of the 
crop; part of it was tilled by foreign (never Persian) slaves. Oxen pulled a 
plough of wood armed with a metal point. Artificial irrigation drew water 
from the mountains to the fields. Barley and wheat were the staple crops 
and foods, but much meat was eaten and much wine drunk. Cyrus served 
wine to his army, 20 and Persian councils never undertook serious discussions , 
of policy when sobert though they took care to revise their decisions the 
next morning. One intoxicating drink, the haoma, was offered as a pleasant 
sacrifice to the gods, and was believed to engender in its addicts not ex- 
citement and anger, but righteousness and piety." 8 

Industry was poorly developed in Persia; she was content to let the na- 
tions of the Near East practice the handicrafts while she bought their 

* Some examples of the correlation: 

Old Persian 












napat (grandson) 

















stand * 

t"Thcy carry on their most important deliberations," Strabo reports, "when drinking 
wine; and they regard decisions then made as more lasting than those made when they 
are sober."" 


products with their imperial tribute. She showed more originality in the 
improvement of communications and transport. Engineers under the in- 
structions of Darius I built great roads uniting the various capitals; one of 
these highways, from Susa to Sardis, was fifteen hundred miles long. The 
roads were accurately measured by parasangs (3.4 miles); and at every 
fourth parasang, says Herodotus, "there are royal stations and excellent 
inns, and the whole road is through an inhabited and safe country."" At 
each station a fresh relay of horses stood ready to carry on the mail, so that, 
though the ordinary traveler required ninety days to go from Susa to Sardis, 
the royal mail moved over the distance as quickly as an automobile party does 
now that is, in a little less than a week. The larger rivers were crossed by 
ferries, but the engineers could, when they wished, throw across the 
Euphrates, even across the Hellespont, substantial bridges over which hun- 
dreds of sceptical elephants could pass in safety. Other roads led through 
the Afghanistan passes to India, and made Susa a half-way house to the al- 
ready fabulous riches of the East. These roads were built primarily for mili- 
tary and governmental purposes, to facilitate central control and admin- 
istration; but they served also to stimulate commerce and the exchange of 
customs, ideas, and the indispensable superstitions of mankind. Along these 
roads, for example, angels and the Devil passed from Persian into Jewish 
and Christian mythology. 

Navigation was not so vigorously advanced as land transportation; the 
Persians had no fleet of their own, but merely engaged or conscripted the 
vessels of the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Darius built a great canal uniting 
Persia with the Mediterranean through the Red Sea and the Nile, but the 
carelessness of his successors soon surrendered this achievement to the 
shifting sands. When Xerxes royally commanded part of his naval forces to 
circumnavigate Africa, it turned back in disgrace shortly after passing 
through the Pillars of Hercules. 80 Commerce was for the most part aban- 
doned to foreigners Babylonians, Phoenicians and Jews; the Persians despised 
trade, and looked upon a market place as a breeding-ground of lies. The 
wealthy classes took pride in supplying most of their wants directly from 
their own fields and shops, not contaminating their fingers with either buy- 
ing or selling. 81 Payments, loans and interest were at first in the form of 
goods, especially cattle and grain; coinage came later from Lydia. Darius 
issued gold and silver "darics" stamped with his features,* and valued at a 
gold-to-silver ratio of 13.5 to i. This was the origin of the bimetallic ratio 
in modern currencies. 88 

* But having no relation with his name; dearie was from the Persian zariq "a piece of 
gold." The gold daric had a face value of $5.00. Three thousand gold darics made one 
Persian talent." 



The kingThe nobles The armyLaw A savage punishment 
The capitals The satrapies An achievement in administration 

The life of Persia was political and military rather than economic; its 
wealth was based not on industry but on power; it existed precariously 
as a little governing isle in an immense and unnaturally subject sea. The 
imperial organization that maintained this artefact was one of the most 
unique and competent in history. At its head was the king, or Khshathra 
i.e., warrior;* the title indicates the military origin and character of the 
Persian monarchy. Since lesser kings were vassal to him, the Persian 
ruler entitled himself "King of Kings," and the ancient world made no 
protest against his claim; the Greeks called him simply BasileusThc 
King." 4 His power was theoretically absolute; he could kill with a word, 
without trial or reason given, after the manner of some very modern 
dictator; and occasionally he delegated to his mother or his chief wife 
this privilege of capricious slaughter." Few even of the greatest nobles 
dared offer any criticism or rebuke, and public opinion was cautiously 
impotent. The father whose innocent son had been shot before his eyes 
by the king merely complimented the monarch on his excellent archery; 
offenders bastinadoed by the royal order thanked His Majesty for keeping 
them in mind. 86 The king might rule as well as reign, if, like Cyrus and 
the first Darius, he cared to bestir himself; but the later monarchs dele- 
gated most of the cares of government to noble subordinates or imperial 
eunuchs, and spent their time at love, dice or the chase." The court was 
overrun with eunuchs who, from their coigns of vantage as guards of the 
harem and pedagogues to the princes, stewed a poisonous brew of intrigue 
in every reign, t" The king had the right to choose his successor from 
among his sons, but ordinarily the succession was determined by assassina- 
tion and revolution. 

The royal power was limited in practice by the strength of the aristoc- 
racy that mediated between the people and the throne. It was a matter 
of custom that the six families of the men who had shared with Darius I 

* The word survives in the present tide of the Persian king Shah. Its stem appears also 
in the Satraps or provincial officials of Persia, and in the Kshatriya or warrior caste of 

fFive hundred castrated boys came annually from Babylonia to act as "keepers of the 
women" in the harems of Persia." 


the dangers of the revolt against false Smerdis, should have exceptional 
privileges and be consulted in all matters of vital interest. Many of the 
nobles attended court, and served as a council for whose advice the 
monarch usually showed the highest regard. Most members of the aris- 
tocracy were attached to the throne by receiving their estates from the 
king; in return they provided him with men and materials when he took 
the field. Within their fiefs they had almost complete authority levying 
taxes, enacting laws, executing judgment, and maintaining their own 
armed forces. 40 

The real basis of the royal power and imperial government was the army; 
an empire exists only so long as it retains its superior capacity to kill. The 
obligation to enlist on any declaration of war fell upon every able-bodied 
male from fifteen to fifty years of age. 41 When the father of three sons 
petitioned Darius to exempt one of them from service, all three were put 
to death; and when another father, having sent four sons to the battlefield, 
begged Xerxes to permit the fifth son to stay behind and manage the 
family estate, the body of this fifth son was cut in two by royal order and 
placed on both sides of the road by which the army was to pass." The 
troops marched off to war amid the blare of martial music and the plaudits 
of citizens above the military age. 

The spearhead of the army was the Royal Guard two thousand horse- 
men and two thousand infantry, all nobles whose function it was to guard 
the king. The standing army consisted exclusively of Persians and Alcdcs, 
and from this permanent force came most of the garrisons stationed as centers 
of persuasion at strategic points in the empire. The complete force consisted 
of levies from every subject nation, each group with its own distinct lan- 
guage, weapons and habits of war. Its equipment and retinue was as varied 
as its origin: bows and arrows, scimitars, javelins, daggers, pikes, slings, 
knives, shields, helmets, leather cuirasses, coats of mail, horses, elephants, 
heralds, scribes, eunuchs, prostitutes, concubines, and chariots armed on 
each hub with great steel scythes. The whole mass, though vast in number, 
and amounting in the expedition of Xerxes to 1,800,000 men, never achieved 
unity, and at the first sign of a reverse it became a disorderly mob. It con- 
quered by mere force of numbers, by an elastic capacity for absorbing 
casualties; it was destined to be overthrown as soon as it should encounter a 
well-organized army speaking one speech and accepting one discipline. This 
was the secret of Marathon and Plataea. 

In such a state the only law was the will of the king and the power 
of the army; no rights were sacred against these, and no precedents could 


avail except an earlier decree of the king. For it was a proud boast of 
Persia that its laws never changed, and that a royal promise or decree 
was irrevocable. In his edicts and judgments the king was supposed to 
be inspired by the god Ahura-Mazda himself; therefore the law of 
the realm was the Divine Will, and any infraction of it was an offense 
against the deity. The king was the supreme court, but it was his custom 
to delegate this function to some learned elder in his retinue. Below him 
was a High Court of Justice with seven members, and below this were 
local courts scattered through the realm. The priests formulated the law, 
and for a long time acted as judges; in later days laymen, even laywomen, 
sat in judgment. Bail was accepted in all but the most important cases, 
and a regular procedure of trial was followed. The court occasionally 
decreed rewards as well as punishments, and in considering a crime 
weighed against it the good record and services of the accused. The 
law's delays were mitigated by fixing a time-limit for each case, and by 
proposing to all disputants an arbitrator of their own choice who might 
bring them to a peaceable settlement. As the law gathered precedents 
and complexity a class of men arose called "speakers of the law," who 
offered to explain it to litigants and help them conduct their cases. 43 
Oaths were taken, and use was occasionally made of the ordeal." Bribery ' 
was discouraged by making the tender or acceptance of it a capital 
offense. Cambyses improved the integrity of the courts by causing an 
unjust judge to be flayed alive, and using his skin to upholster the judicial 
benchto which he then appointed the dead judge's son." 

Minor punishments took the form of flogging from five to two hun- 
dred blows with a horsewhip; the poisoning of a shepherd dog received 
two hundred strokes, manslaughter ninety. 40 The administration of the 
law was partly financed by commuting stripes into fines, at the rate of 
six rupees to a stripe. 47 More serious crimes were punished with branding, 
maiming, mutilation, blinding, imprisonment or death. The letter of the 
law forbade any one, even the king, to sentence a man to death for a 
simple crime; but it could be decreed for treason, rape, sodomy, murder, 
"self-pollution," burning or burying the dead, intrusion upon the king's 
privacy, approaching one of his concubines, accidentally sitting upon his 
throne, or for any displeasure to the ruling house." Death was procured 
in such cases by poisoning, impaling, crucifixion, hanging (usually with 
the head down), stoning, burying the body up to the head, crushing 
the head between huge stones, smothering the victim in hot ashes, or by 


the incredibly cruel rite called "the boats."* Some of these barbarous 
punishments were bequeathed to the invading Turks of a later age, and 
passed down into the heritage of mankind." 

With these laws and this army the king sought to govern his twenty 
satrapies from his many capitals originally Pasargadae, occasionally Per- 
sepolis, in summer Ecbatana, usually Susa; here, in the ancient capital of 
Elam, the history of the ancient Near East came full circle, binding the 
beginning and the end. Susa had the advantage of inaccessibility, and 
the disadvantages of distance; Alexander had to come two thousand miles 
to take it, but it had to send its troops fifteen hundred miles to suppress 
revolts in Lydia or Egypt. Ultimately the great roads merely paved the 
way for the physical conquest of western Asia by Greece and Rome, 
and the theological conquest of Greece and Rome by western Asia. 

The empire was divided into provinces or satrapies for convenience 
of administration and taxation. Each province was governed in the name 
of the King of Kings, sometimes by a vassal prince, ordinarily by a 
"satrap" (ruler) royally appointed for as long a time as he could retain 
favor at the court. To keep the satraps in hand Darius sent to each 
province a general to control its armed forces independently of the gov- 
ernor; and to make matters trebly sure he appointed in each province a 
secretary, independent of both satrap and general, to report their behavior 
to the king. As a further precaution an intelligence service known as 
"The King's Eyes and Ears" might appear at any moment to examine the 
affairs, records and finances of the province. Sometimes the satrap was 

* Because the soldier Mithridates, in his cups, blurted out the fact that it was he, and 
not the king, who should have received credit for slaying Cyrus the Younger at the 
battle of Cunaxa, Artaxcrxcs II, says Plutarch, "decreed that Mithridates should be put to 
death in boats; which execution is after the following manner: Taking two boats framed 
exactly to fit and answer each other, they lay down in one of them the malefactor that 
suffers, upon his back; then, covering it with the other, and so setting them together that 
the head, hands and feet of him are left outside, and the rest of his body lies shut up 
within, they offer him food, and if he refuse to eat it, they force him to do it by prick- 
ing his eyes; then, after he has eaten, they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, 
pouring it not only into his mouth but all over his face. They then keep his face con- 
tinually turned toward the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the 
multitude of flies that settle upon it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat 
and drink must do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption of the ex- 
crement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed. When the man 
is manifestly dead, the uppermost boat being taken off, they find his flesh devoured, and 
swarms of such noisome creatures preying upon and, as it were, growing to his inwards. 
In this way Mithridates, after suffering for seventeen days, at last expired." 80 


deposed without trial, sometimes he was quietly poisoned by his servants 
at the order of the king. Underneath the satrap and the secretary was a 
horde of clerks who carried on so much of the government as had no 
direct need of force; this body of clerks carried over from one administra- 
tion to another, even from reign to reign. The king dies, but the bureau- 
cracy is immortal. 

The salaries of these provincial officials were paid not by the king but 
by the people whom they ruled. The remuneration was ample enough 
to provide the satraps with palaces, harems, and extensive hunting parks 
to which the Persians gave the historic name of paradise. In addition, each 
satrapy was required to send the king, annually, a fixed amount of money 
and goods by way of taxation: India sent 4680 talents, Assyria and Baby- 
lonia 1000, Egypt 700, the four satrapies of Asia Minor 1760, etc., making 
a total of some 14,560 talentsvariously estimated as equivalent to from 
$160,000,000 to $218,000,000 a year. Furthermore, each province was 
expected to contribute to the king's needs in goods and supplies: Egypt 
had to furnish corn annually for 120,000 men; the Medes provided 
100,000 sheep, the Armenians 30,000 foals, the Babylonians five hundred 
young eunuchs. Other sources of wealth swelled the central revenue to 
such a point that when Alexander captured the Persian capitals after one 
hundred and fifty years of Persian extravagance, after a hundred expensive 
revolts and wars, and after Darius III had carried off 8000 talents with 
him in his flight, he found 180,000 talents left in the royal treasuries- 
some $2,700,000,000." 

Despite these high charges for its services, the Persian Empire was the 
most successful experiment in imperial government that the Mediter- 
ranean world would know before the coming of Rome which was des- 
tined to inherit much of the earlier empire's political structure and ad- 
ministrative forms. The cruelty and dissipation of the later monarchs, 
the occasional barbarism of the laws, and the heavy burdens of taxation 
were balanced, as human governments go, by such order and peace as 
made the provinces rich despite these levies, and by such liberty as only 
the most enlightened empires have accorded to subject states. Each 
region retained its own language, laws, customs, morals, religion and coin- 
age, and sometimes its native dynasty of kings. Many of the tributary 
nations, like Babylonia, Phoenicia and Palestine, were well satisfied with 
the situation, and suspected that their own generals and tax-gatherer 
would have plucked them even more ferociously. Under Darii 


Persian Empire was an achievement in political organization; only Trajan, 
Hadrian and the Antonines would equal it. 


The coming of the Prophet Persian religion before Zarathustra 

The Bible of Persia Ahura-Mazda The good and the evil 

spirits Their struggle for the possession of the 'world 

Persian legend tells how, many hundreds of years before the birth of 
Christ, a great prophet appeared in Airyana-vaejo, the ancient "home 
of the Aryans." His people called him Zarathustra; but the Greeks, who 
could never bear the orthography of the "barbarians" patiently, called 
him Zoroastres. His conception was divine: his guardian angel entered 
into an haoma plant, and passed with its juice into the body of a priest 
as the latter offered divine sacrifice; at the same time a ray of heaven's 
glory entered the bosom of a maid of noble lineage. The priest espoused 
the maid, the imprisoned angel mingled with the imprisoned ray, and 
Zarathustra began to be. M He laughed aloud on the very day of his birth, 
and the evil spirits that gather around every life fled from him in tumult 
and terror." Out of his great love for wisdom and righteousness he with- 
drew from the society of men, and chose to live in a mountain wilderness 
on cheese and the fruits of the soil. The Devil tempted him, but to no 
avail. His breast was pierced with a sword, and his entrails were filled 
with molten lead; he did not complain, but clung to his faith in Ahura- 
Mazda the Lord of Light as supreme god. Ahura-Mazda appeared to 
him and gave into his hands the Avesta, or Book of Knowledge and Wis- 
dom, and bade him preach it to mankind. For a long time all the world 
ridiculed and persecuted him; but at last a high prince of Iran Vishtaspa 
or Hystaspcs heard him gladly, and promised to spread the new faith 
among his people. Thus was the Zoroastrian religion born. Zarathustra 
himself lived to a very old age, was consumed in a flash of lightning, and 
ascended into heaven." 

We cannot tell how much of his story is true; perhaps some Josiah 
discovered him. The Greeks accepted him as historical, and honored 
him with an antiquity of 5500 years before their time; M Berosus the 
Babylonian brought him down to 2000 B.C.; 07 modern historians, when 
they believe in his existence, assign him to any century between the tenth 


and the sixth before Christ.* 58 When he appeared, among the ancestors 
of the Medes and the Persians, he found his people worshiping animals, 
ancestors, 90 the earth and the sun, in a religion having many elements and 
deities in common with the Hindus of the Vedic age. The chief divinities 
of this pre-Zoroastrian faith were Mithra, god of the sun, Anaita, goddess 
of fertility and the earth, and Haoma the bull-god who, dying, rose 
again, and gave mankind his blood as a drink that would confer immor- 
tality; him the early Iranians worshiped by drinking the intoxicating juice 
of the haama herb found on their mountain slopes.* Zarathustra was 
shocked at these primitive deities and this Dionysian ritual; he rebelled against 
the "Magi" or priests who prayed and sacrificed to them; and with all the 
bravery of his contemporaries Amos and Isaiah he announced to the world 
one God here Ahura-Mazda, the Lord of Light and Heaven, of whom 
all other gods were but manifestations and qualities. Perhaps Darius I, 
who accepted the new doctrine, saw in it a faith that would both inspire 
his people and strengthen his government. From the moment of his 
accession he declared war upon the old cults and the Magian priesthood, 
and made Zoroastrianism the religion of the state. 

The Bible of the new faith was the collection of books in which the dis- 
ciples of the Master had gathered his sayings and his prayers. Later follow- 
ers called these books Avesta; by the error of a modern scholar they are 
known to the Occidental world as the Zend-Avesta.^ The contemporary 
non-Persian reader is terrified to find that the substantial volumes that sur- 
vive, though much shorter than our Bible, are but a small fraction of the 
revelation vouchsafed to Zarathustra by his god4 What remains is, to the 

* If the Vishtaspa who promulgated him was the father of Darius I, the last of these 
dates seems the most probable. 

t Anquetil-Duperron (ca. 1771 A.D.) intr